Masterminds (1997)

September 1, 1997

You only have to look as far as the unbelievable success of schlock rocker Marilyn Manson or puffsters the Backstreet Boys to realize that, as far as the youth market is concerned, packaging is everything. Lemons into lemonade, spice into the Spice Girls - to paraphrase The Simpsons, getting kids to buy crap is like shooting fish in a barrel. Usually.

With that in mind, there can’t be a doubt as to the target audience for Masterminds. The poster features lead cool kid Vincent Kartheiser, decked out in all the requisite cool things (funny sunglasses, wallet chain and hipster duds) tooling his skateboard on the furrowed brow of bad old guy Patrick Stewart. If this isn’t for the kids, may the Trix rabbit dance on my early grave.

As such, Masterminds is such a poor attempt at capturing teen rebellion on film that it makes those idiotic Speed Kills ads (and local ham Paul Anthony) look positively defiant. Featuring a plotline lifted straight from Die Hard, with liberal sprinklings from other, less worthy sources, Masterminds comes off as light as a feather and as entertaining as one of those loathsome ABC afternoon specials. Judy Blume, eat your heart out.

What we have here is terrorist cum thief Rafe Bentley (Patrick Stewart, looking more and more like a pink dildo in a suit) who takes a private school hostage for the tune of $680 million. The only one who can save the periled pupils is Ozzie Paxton (Vincent Kartheiser), whose calculated cool is matched only by his pouty androgyny, no doubt cast here to drive young girls into a lustful frenzy.

After Bentley and his motley crew (looking for all the world like professional wrestlers) take control of the school, Paxton preps us for what’s to come by quipping, “We’ve got a die hard situation here.” He then spends the rest of the movie harrying the hapless thieves while climbing through ventilation shafts, and communicating to the police via walkie talkies. Demonstrating his impeccable computer hacking skills and a MacGuyver-esque talent for transforming junk into traps, Paxton manages to free the hostages and foil the thieves’ plans. In the end, Bentley falls into a gigantic pool of shit, and in true Scooby-Doo fashion, curses, “those damn kids!”

Masterminds was directed by Roger Christian, who made a film in the 80’s called The Sender, which was a poor man’s version of Scanners. Masterminds could have been at the very least a poor man’s Die Hard, if it wasn’t for the fact that no one actually dies - they just dust themselves off and keep going. The cartoony atmosphere is echoed in the obnoxious music video lighting (by Nic Morris) and a decidedly campy performance by Stewart, who obviously spent more time looking at his cheque than the script.

There’s a fine line between emanating cool and desperately emulating cool. This je ne sais pas is something teenagers usually pick up on effortlessly - especially when it’s hatched by someone unaware of what really is in. That being said, only the youngest of kids (who are still learning what’s hip) will probably latch onto Masterminds; the rest of us older types will see it for what it really is - calculated, regurgitated trash thrown together to exploit what old farts think kids really what to watch. Stick with the John Hughes classics, and stay far, far away from Masterminds.

ISSN 1499-7894
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