Posted by: playingthedevil | July 25, 2011

masterminds (1997) – die hard-ish ix

if die hard-ish movies show up as an analogy question on the sat, it may go something like this:

crackerjack : icebreaker ::
toy soldiers : masterminds

like toy soldiers, masterminds is die-hard-in-a-private-school. toy soldiers and masterminds are six years apart, just as crackerjack and icebreaker. as far as i know, only sean astin appears in more than one of these four movies.

unlike toy soldiers though, masterminds is brought to you by the director of battlefield earth, and stars patrick stewart in the hans gruber role and pete campbell from mad men as mcclane. in fact, i will go out on a limb here and say that masterminds is better than battlefield earth. feel free to use that on the dvd and blu-ray. (as of now, masterminds is only available on vhs.)

the school kids in masterminds are also younger than the ones in toy soldiers. vincent “pete campbell” kartheiser is an older brother of one of the hostages. so instead of having a group of teens as mcclanes, he gets more of a chance to be the lone hero.

i hate to admit it but the movie kind of earns some point from me for having stabbing westward in the opening computer hacking scene. it’s probably nostalgia. not that they were great or anything and they were probably put in the movie at the end when the studio asked “what do the kids like nowadays?” s.w., as i like to call them, for the purpose of this sentence, is one of the many trent reznor inspired bands from the 90s. they also covered new order for the not another teen movie movie. i guess it was just kind of unexpected to hear them in a late 90s pg-13 die hard-ish movie. i am just happy that i don’t have to sit through another hacking scene with techno playing in the background. no gravity kills or filter in the movie though. at least they didn’t use any bush songs.


compare to the other die hard-ish movies i’ve seen, masterminds actually sets things up and get to the point pretty swiftly. it’s only about 15-20 into the movie when the kid is trapped inside the school and captain picard takes over.

a few worries i had before the movie turned out didn’t bother me much. since it’s pg-13, it could have went the hard/serious toy soldiers route or the funny, harmless home alone route. masterminds actually manages to balance the two sides. there are a few in-jokes and doesn’t seem as somber as toy soldiers and it doesn’t quite sink to the family friendly home alone level, at least until the end.

the cover works both up and down, much like the newer education system, there are no losers, everyone's a mastermind

another mistake it could have done, which bothers quite a few critics, is that the kids are annoying. again, it didn’t quite bother me either, even though they have names like ozzie and k-dog, and their names are mentioned over and over again. i’ve seen worse demographic pandering than masterminds.

even though things were looking good for a while, masterminds eventually becomes a bore. unless you actually have a john mcclane in your movie, no die hard-ish movie should be more than 97 minutes long. for a 106 minute movie, the second half of masterminds ultimately negates all the good wills it earned during the first half. scenes seem to reiterate things we already know over and over again instead of moving forward. a shorter movie may also have obscured some of the illogical plot points. i’m still not quite sure why some bad guys have dart guns and some have guns with real bullets. it was never explained how they can tell which guns fire which type of bullets.

as i have mentioned numerous times, the villain is once again the best part of the movie. patrick stewart is funny and interesting as the gruber stand in. after a while, the movie just drags whenever he’s not on screen. and personally, i also like the fact that bradley whitford is in the movie. even though he has a couple walk-and-talk scenes, i don’t think aaron sorkin has anything to do with this movie.

it’s probably a good movie to watch for film students who want to learn about pacing. it never got bad as one would imagine a die hard-ish movie from the director of battlefield earth, it’s just kind of boring in the second half. it’s like they run out of new things to add to keep the movie going. it feels a little too late by the time the twists and turns show up in the third act.

the trailers before the movie includes spice world, excess baggage, that rene russo/animals vehicle (no, lethal weapon 4 came out a year later) buddy, all of which, along with masterminds, were flops. the spice girls’ classic song wannabe appears in two different trailers. at least there was the mask of zorro, which made money and supposed to be good, and the fifth element, the first of two fireball hurtling towards earth movie starring bruce willis, the one that doesn’t suck.

it doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but i have to report any bruce sightings during die hard-ish month.



masterminds (1997)
the pitch: die hard in a private school (hatley castle in bc, canada, you may recognize it from the last three x-men movies).
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: vincent kartheiser, who’s actually not as stiff as some of his adult counterparts. they even give him some cocky one liners.
the gruber factor: patrick stewart, another british actor in the gruber role. he’s really the best thing in the movie being funny, menacing and lively. if you’re a good enough actor, you can shine even when you’re in a mediocre movie. the soccer uniform is one exhilarating wtf moment that the movie could use more of.
the hans objective: he’s holding ten of the kids with rich parents hostage for ransom money. we learn later that there are more things going on but by then i was half asleep. the movie also for some reason dedicates way too much time to a steampunk team working for stewart’s getaway plan. they were mildly amusing but don’t deserve that much screen time.
wrong place at the wrong time: he’s only there to take his younger sister to class. he more or less stays there to save his sister. he’s not really trapped though since his friend k-dog seems to be able to sneak into the school pretty easily even though earlier in the movie we see landmines explode when the feds tries to get in.
the help: he was talking to his mom and his friend through walkie talkie on the outside for a while. but his friend eventually got into the school, which doesn’t really affect the movie much. oh it helps that their parents are rich. but that’s not specific to this movie, that’s life in general.
the family element: the hero’s sister is held hostage. he has a pretty painful conversation on the walkie talkie with his stepmom (annabelle gurwitch from tbs’ dinner and a movie), though i’m sure it’s still more bearable than the movie stepmom.
bonfire of the weaponry: dart guns, real guns, grenade launchers, grenades, hacking skills, land mines, electricity, baseball bats, heat, sprinkler system, sewage…
last man standing: obvioiusly it would be silly to have a one on one between the kid and captain picard. instead, we get a dune buggy chase just like in breakaway (christmas rush). but like most scenes in this movie, it is unnecessarily long and therefore all the tensions and excitements evaporate.
unbearables: a british actor playing the villain though he’s not supposed to be german. we found out later that his interest is in bonds. the hero crawls around vents, shafts and tunnels, waaaay more than john mcclane ever did. he communites via walkie talkies. the police shows up but are destroyed. then the feds showed up and are also shown to be useless. the hero tries to warn the feds about a trap. the villains demands ransom. the lead villain has a team of specialists that reminds of die hard with a vengeance. the hacking is too simplistic to be compared to live free or die hard. the hero talks to himself and has one liners. the hero also improvises but seem more by chance than smart. the hero has a supposedly emotional scene through the walkie talkie but ends up laughable.
it’s also the first time a die hard-ish movie mentioned the original die hard. “we’ve got a die hard situation here!” the movie deserves some credit for that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: