David Ghant (Zach Galifianakis) is pretty content with his life as a security guard for an armored car company. It’s not thrilling, but it works for him. That is, it works for him until Kelly (Kristen Wiig), a coworker he has a crush on and has been flirting with, proposes to him that they steal some of the money they transport on a daily basis. So they put into motion a plan that results, against all odds, in them successfully making off with about $17 million and that’s the plot of the new movie Masterminds.
That’s only the beginning, though. They make the unwise decision to leave the money with a co-conspirator named Steve (Owen Wilson) who’s not exactly the most trustworthy cat. In fact he almost immediately begins blowing the money on himself, drawing attention to this sudden influx of cash. Setting David up to take the fall, Steve also sends a hit man (Jason Sudeikis) after him to take him out and tie up any loose ends. Of course this all goes hilariously wrong, as you might expect. Let’s look at the movie’s campaign.
A series of character posters showed off the impressive comedic cast, with extreme close ups of their faces along with their character trait. So Galifianakis is “The Pawn,” Wiig is “The Bait” and so on. Nothing visually impressive here, just an attempt to make sure the audience knows some big name stars are in the movie.
The theatrical one-sheet just combines all those character images into a single poster, creating two rows of photos separated by the title treatment. Again, nothing overly original or interesting on this, it’s just meant to sell the movie’s most basic value proposition, that you probably like most of these actors. There isn’t even any tagline or other copy that hints at the plot, which you’re left having to infer from the descriptions of the characters on display.
The teaser trailer starts out with news footage and commentary telling us about the criminal masterminds who just pulled off the largest bank heist in U.S. history, making them sound like stone cold thugs. It gets the laugh, then, when we see Ghantt almost shoot himself in the buttocks. From there it’s all kinds of antics as we see Ghantt both before and after the heist getting in all kinds of outrageous situations.
It’s not bad but it’s basically selling a premise and a few laughs, not anything that resembles a coherent story. This one is all about “scenes,” which is fine but don’t expect anything great here.
The first full trailer does a better job at selling the story, taking us from Ghantt’s introduction through him being talked into and then committing the robbery and the fallout, including a betrayal by the people who convinced him to do it in the first place. It’s much funnier than the teaser because it allows the premise a little extra time and space to breath, which helps greatly.
It was over a year before we got a second trailer (more on that below) and it hits most of the same points as the first. We’re introduced to Ghantt, who’s got big dreams but not an abundance of skill or brains. We see him meet Nancy and get talked into a scheme to rob a bank, which he does and which leads to a manhunt for him. He’s betrayed by the mastermind and basically keeps outwitting everyone because he’s not that bright and so doesn’t do what he’s expected by anyone to do.
Like I said, it’s not that different from the first trailer but is still moderately funny, depending on your tolerance for Galifianakis and his shtick. What’s notable, of course, is that this came out post-Ghostbusters and so features not just Wiig but also Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. The former was completely absent from previous trailers and the latter’s presence is significantly expanded, thanks largely to the both of them being pegged as breakouts in that other movie.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website loads and lets you into a bank vault. The main part of the site (I had to view it on my phone since it kept crashing Chrome, which isn’t the greatest user experience) lets you scroll through some GIFs of scenes from the movie with dialogue over them.
“Videos” seems to be the first section and it has the latest trailer along with a number of clips and TV spots. “Photos” has a number of stills you can scroll through. There’s an alright plot synopsis in the “About” section. Interspersed in the site navigation are motion versions of the character posters that, when you click on them, play a short clip featuring that character.
There was also a Facebook page that shared the usual promotional videos and images. Nothing special there, but what I did notice is that the page is very responsive to comments, often responding with some sort of hand-drawn picture or a note written on notebook paper. That’s something you don’t often see on movie pages, so kudos to the team on this.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Various TV spots like this one tried to cram as much hilarity as possible into 30 seconds. They provide the barest possible outline of the story of a planned bank heist but it’s all an excuse to get to some of the bigger and broader jokes from the movie. That and the spots want to show off as much of the ensemble cast as possible.
At least some online ads were run as well, often using the key art of all the main cast laid out horizontally.
Media and Publicity
After the first wave of marketing – a poster and a trailer – hit, the movie went silent for a long time. That’s because it fell victim to the bankruptcy proceedings of Relativity, which financed and was set to distribute the movie. So it made a splash and then disappeared from the narrative for about a year, meaning any momentum it had all but disappeared.
Not a whole lot of activity followed until the movie’s premiere, where the cast talked about meeting the real-life Ghantt, how hard it was to not break character during filming, bringing the real life story to the screen and more.
It’s honestly hard to get a feel for this campaign, something that’s exacerbated by the big gaps in activity. The trailers and TV spots aren’t particularly hilarious, but the movie as a whole may feature a dry sense of humor that doesn’t come through well in a campaign that’s trying to just play for the biggest laughs possible. That’s likely given Hess’s love of understated material, but it doesn’t translate to what the audience is being sold via this campaign.
What’s on display is a mild-mannered, kind of amusing comedy that, as I mentioned above, relies greatly on our existing affinity for Galifianakis, Wiig and the rest of the impressive cast. There’s no distinctive or memorable style to the campaign, so it works overtime to put them front and center and hope that brings in the audience. Given the overall lack of promotion, though, it may be hard for the movie to cut through the rest of the weekend theatrical and overall media clutter.