22 08 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson,

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

by Jericho Cerrona
August 22, 2011

30 Minutes or Less, directed by Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleischer, desperately wants to be Midnight Run for a younger generation. But whereas the Robert De Niro/ Charles Grodin 1988 cult classic derived huge laughs out of its characters and situations, 30 Minutes or Less ruins a fun premise by forcing the issue. No one naturally expects comedic greatness from a movie about a Pizza delivery guy with a bomb strapped to his chest, but given the talent involved, the film nonetheless counts as something of a disappointment.

For all its flaws, Zombieland at least had a frenetic visual style and a good sense of pacing. Here, Fleischer seems unsure of what kind of movie he wants to make. The tone lurches uncomfortably from lowbrow stoner humor to action comedy and then back to something approaching flat drama. Visually, it also looks drab and low-budget, with even the few action sequences coming off amateurish and poorly executed. This is surprising, given Zombieland’s success and the high-profile nature of the cast. Surely, there is nothing wrong with making a modestly budgeted little action comedy, but the $28 million dollar budget is definently not up there on the screen. Perhaps the money was spent simply to feed the actors or on marketing costs. Whatever the reason, 30 Minutes or Less feels like a bargain bin B-movie.

The concept is promising. Pizza delivery guy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) has to rob a bank in ten hours or else delinquent criminals Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, respectively) will detonate a bomb that they’ve strapped to his chest. The reasoning behind their plan involves collecting inheritance money from Dwayne’s strict Military father (an underused Fred Ward), whom they hope to murder by using the stolen bank money to hire a hit man named Chongo (Michael Pena). Nick goes to his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), for help, even after they have had a falling out over the revelation that Nick slept with Chet’s twin sister Katie (Dilshad Vadsaria). What follows is a periodically entertaining but rather disorganized action comedy that is high on concept but surprisingly low on laughs.

Eisenberg has proven he can play the fast-talking awkward part with roles in films like Roger Dodger, The Squid and The Whale, and the aforementioned Zombieland. His big break came in last year’s critically lauded The Social Network, in which he played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with a mixture of intimidating intelligence and raging ego. But beyond the rapid-fire dialogue and nervous tics, Eisenberg gave the character shades of uncertainty and nuance. In 30 Minutes or Less, he tries to go in a slightly different direction. Nick is a dim-witted slacker and prone to foolish high jinks, but the actor never really gives the audience anything to root for or care about. This may not be entirely Eisenberg’s fault, as the script by Michael Diliberti is pretty dismal, full of clunky lines and vulgar humor. Ansari, meanwhile, is quite funny but only in doses. He’s essentially playing everything at the same high-pitched level, replicating what he does in his stand-up routines and on MTV’s shortly lived sketch comedy series Human Giant. After a while, his ranting gets annoying, and his chemistry with Eisenberg is only intermittingly amusing.

Too much screen time is also given to the lewd stupidity of the McBride and Swardson characters, and while some of their ridiculous lines hit the mark, too often they just stand around spouting white-trash clichés. More successful is Pena as a brain-dead gangster assassin, who sparks the film to life whenever he is onscreen. There is one extended sequence in the film that also works quite well, that being the bank robbery scene. From Nick and Chet arguing over their bank robber names, to the delightfully wacky complications that ensue once inside, it all plays out with a comedic energy largely absent from the rest of the movie. Had Fleischer been able to make an entire movie as funny and absurd as this one sequence, 30 Minutes or Less might have been a crudely enjoyable romp. But as it stands, the movie largely falls flat as comedy and there aren’t enough interesting character interactions for it to engage on a dramatic level.

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