30 Minutes or Less
Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Written By: Michael Diliberti, from a story by Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swarsdon, Fred Ward, and Michael Pena.
Director of Photography: Jess Hall, Editor: Alan Baumgarten, Production Designer: Maher Ahmad, Original Music: Theodore Shapiro
Rated: R for rude language and ruder violence.
Having a bomb with a timer in a movie is always a great idea. It gives your characters not only a motivation to keep moving, but moving quickly. What? Moments of pathos? Forget that—there’s a bomb in a room and there’s no time for such moments. We gotta take care of this thing before it explores!
But 30 Minutes or Less, the final R-rated comedy of the summer (one of six!), could take some time to slow down. This is a rare thing to say about comedy as well, as too many comedies these days believe they can run for over two hours, when a lean 90 minutes would suit them better. But not for this flick, which runs just over 80 minutes. Director Ruben Fleischer showed a lot of promise with his debut flick Zombieland, which combined an end of the world apocalypse with a rag tag road movie, squeezing that perfect tone between ridiculous and irreverent blood and guts with genuine character moments.
One would hope that Mr. Fleischer could bring that same spirit to 30 Minutes or Less, which attempts to play as a satire of the action movie genre. The script by Michael Diliberti even name drops a number of classics: Point Break, Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon for starters, and the premise—two guys find themselves having to rob a bank in order to not explode—is the perfect type of premise you want for an action comedy. However, despite the great actors in them, 30 Minutes or Less zooms by with both a logical inconsistency as well as a tonal one, showing moments of promise here or there, but not as a whole.
The problem begins with our protagonists, loser pizza delivery man Nick, played by Social Network star Jesse Eisenberg, and school teacher Chet, played by Parks and Recreation’s Aziz Ansari. Mr. Eisenberg and Mr. Ansari are perfect for each other and have a great report, with Mr. Ansari’s large antics matching with Mr. Eisenberg’s under the breath quibbles. But Nick and Chet don’t work well together. In an early scene, the two try and one up each other by admitting how they’ve ruined each other’s lives (Chet accidentally broke up Nick’s parents; Nick slept with Chet’s twin sister). It has some laughs, but it’s a really malicious scene to watch about two friends, so when the real danger comes, the fact that they have a friendship even before the film is tenuous at best.
That danger comes in the form of a bomb strapped to Nick’s chest, thanks to two idiots played by Danny McBirde and Nick Swarson, who force Nick to rob a bank for them, so Mr. McBride can kill his spiteful rich father. These guys are also idiots, but they have even more malevolence than Nick and Chet, so when Mr. Diliberti tries to tie some plot points late into the film through their friendship, it feels ham-fisted at best.
Had Mr. Fleischer had more time to flesh out these characters, and even put a few more obstacles in the way of the characters, I think 30 Minutes or Less could have been a better action parody. However, only moments work—Mr. Ansari steals the bank robbery scene with his excellent line reading, and Michael Pena’s small role as a gangster is over-the-top fun—and the film’s weird meshing of these characters into a buddy comedy never jells together. 30 Minutes or Less reminded me of a number of movies that have put idiots into action films, most notably David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express, which knew that its characters came first, and made them fun to spend time with. But when there’s a bomb and a deadline, there’s never any time to think about this stuff; that is, until the bomb finally goes off.