There are two kinds of true-story disaster movies hitting theatres this weekend. “Deepwater Horizon” stars Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Rusell in the tragic tale of what happened when the titular oil drilling rig fell to pieces in the Gulf of Mexico, causing what became known as the BP disaster and creating the biggest oil spill in American history.
The second, “Masterminds,” stars a powerhouse comedy cast of Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis and Leslie Jones to recount the ridiculously misguided events surrounding the largest cash robbery in American history. Out of the two, “Deepwater” offers an evening of impressive explosions but is kind of a downer, while “Masterminds” emerges as the comic surprise of the year and left an entire room of local critics exploding with laughter at a screening room last week.
“Deepwater” tries to immerse viewers quickly into the life of Mike Williams (Wahlberg), one of the lead engineers supervising the safety of equipment on the Horizon, which is located far offshore. We see him enjoying a roll in the hay with his wife and playing with his young daughter, but within minutes, he’s whisked away to the oil rig for the three-week tour of duty that nearly costs him his life.
Joined by the Horizon’s owner Jimmy Harrell (Russell), Williams tries to tell a slimy British Petroleum (BP) executive (John Malkovich) that the rig is in no shape to engage in a new long-term drilling operation. But the exec says they are already 43 days behind schedule and orders the rig to drill anyway, leading to the explosive disaster that shocked the planet.
While the explosions and other action effects while the disaster unfolds are impressively wrought by director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights,” “The Kingdom”), they occur in the service of such a dismaying story that it’s impossible to enjoy rather than be horrified by the mayhem onscreen. And aside from the opening moments, none of the men onboard is shown with enough personal depth to care about their characters’ fate other than on a basic human level.
“Deepwater” is rated PG13 for its intense scenes of explosions and the many ways in which the oil, shrapnel and fires onboard the Horizon endangered the lives of the crewmembers aboard. Only a couple of scenes become cringe-inducingly bloody, however. There is also frequent use of mid-level swear words and one use of the F word, for those counting. On the other hand, these are American heroes, having helped stop the disaster once it unfolded, and there is a powerful scene of prayer at a key moment that provides another example that Christian scenes and themes are successfully re-entering mainstream movies over the past few years. Thus, viewers are left with a classic example of sound and fury signifying nothing, while “Masterminds” expertly mines comedy gold from the tiniest of details.
“Masterminds” follows the late-1990s tale of a dim-witted security guard named David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis), who was tricked into robbing his bank-security company of $17.3 million in 1997. The real mastermind of the operation is a guy named Steve (Owen Wilson), who is friends with David’s fellow guard Kelly (Kristen Wiig) and uses her as a means to woo David into the theft because David is in love with her despite being engaged to a woman named Jandice (Kate McKinnon).
David agrees to pull off the robbery in the hopes of winning over Kelly, who is unsure of herself and is easily convinced to concoct the robbery. He is also hopelessly bored with his life and tired of being poorly paid, so he jumps at the chance for excitement and steals an armored vehicle filled with cash before stupidly handing it all over to the rest of the gang.
Steve sends David off to hiding in Mexico with $20,000 in bundled cash stuffed in his underpants, hoping to keep him out of the way so that he won’t ever tell the police what happened and in the hopes that he won’t be able to come back and demand his $3 million share of the robbery. Steve has managed to hide his identity from David the whole time, using Kelly as his intermediary, but when David figures out who he is and threatens to rat the entire operation out, Steve hires a hit man named Mike (Jason Sudeikis) to kill David.
Add in a tough-talking FBI agent (Leslie Jones) leading the law-enforcement investigation and chase to recapture the loot, and “Masterminds” becomes a screwball comedy of incredible inventiveness and rapid-fire comic perfection. The plot is ever twisting and incredibly funny, the dialogue snaps with comic crackle, and the performances are all distinctive and a joy to behold.
Even better, the screenplay by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey keeps the amount of foul language and sexual humor far more contained than in most current wild comedies. There is one gross-out scene in which two women are fighting using a tube of feminine-hygiene gel as their weapon of choice, but it is pretty quick and easily forgotten in the overall scheme of things. “Masterminds” is just risqué enough, and has enough comic violence, to make it inappropriate for children but adults and older teens will enjoy it greatly.
Director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “Nacho Libre”) makes a tremendous comeback with this movie, following his unmitigated 2010 disaster “Gentlemen Broncos.” He has a unique comic vision tying together oddball characters (the wigs and costumes in this movie are a sight to behold), off-the-wall set details and fine-tunes the comedic aspect of nearly every minute detail on screen to deliver a movie that had a screening room of veteran critics exploding with laughter. It ranks with 2012’s “We’re the Millers” as the funniest movie of the decade so far.