30 MINUTES OR LESS (15): On General Release Friday 16th September
It’s odd than Jesse Eisenberg should chose to follow up the success he had with The Social Network with 30 Minutes Or Less. The former was an acting tour de force, a powerful performance which justifiably garnered great praise. Here he’s taken a giant step backwards as the latter is a throwaway buddy comedy/heist movie that will be forgotten in, wait for it, 30 minutes of less.
Eisenberg plays Nick, a pizza delivery boy adept at getting to his customers before the half an hour time limit that would get them a free pizza expires. On the way back from a delivery, he gets ambushed by slackers Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and forced to rob a bank within 10 hours or the bomb they’ve strapped to his chest will go off.
Rather than keep the cash from the heist, the pair plan to use it to hire a hit-man (Michael Pena) to kill Dwayne’s ex-army dad “The Major” (Fred Ward) for his lottery winnings before he squanders it all.
Panicking, Nick goes to his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) for help. Chet’s initially reluctant to help as the two have recently had a major falling out over Nick’s crush on Chet’s twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). Can the two of them reconcile their differences, pull off the bank heist and turn the tables on their tormentors?
Good chemistry is essential for this kind of movie and thankfully Eisenberg and Ansari match up quite well; their bickering is heartfelt, fast-paced and fun even if Ansari does often resemble a hyperactive C3PO. There are also a couple of good set pieces, particularly the bank heist itself which inevitably doesn’t go quite according to plan.
Unfortunately, that’s where the positives cease. The opening scene has Nick outsmarting a bunch of teenagers who try to get out of paying for their pizza. With his craftiness established there’s an expectation that he might later outsmart some the bad guys in a similarly clever way. But his antagonists are two dim-witted simpletons who could be outdone by Lloyd Christmas.
Nick’s also a superb driver and gets from one end of town to the other in a cloud of tire smoke, dodging through traffic to beat the ever-ticking pizza clock. Again the expectation is that this might have some use later on but this automotive skill never really pays off – the predictable climatic chase scene is all but pedestrian.
Crucially, it’s just not very funny. While some laughs can be milked from Ansari and Eisenberg’s quick-paced chattering, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson’s double-act falls flat and quickly becomes tiresome.
McBride’s schtick is that his characters have a misplaced confidence in their own negligible abilities and he’s not playing against type. But he’s given very few good lines of dialogue, instead peppering sentences with profanity. Swearing is like seasoning: add the right amount and it can kick your comedy up a notch but no one would ever suggest that you pour an entire salt seller into your mouth. If you eliminated the swearing from McBride’s vocabulary, he’d be reduced to grunting and gesticulating like a shaved chimp for that seems to be all he has in his comedy repertoire.
In addition the romantic subplot feels tacked on; Kate pops up as an early romantic distraction but it quickly forgotten until the plot requires her to serve as a hostage. Consequently, the romance never has any emotional weight.
Director Ruben Fleischer had some success with the quick-witted Zombieland in 2009, a film which also starred Eisenberg but was infinitely cleverer and more fun. 30 Minutes Or Less feels like cinematic pit stop on the way to Zombieland 2 – an unnecessary speed bump on the road to (hopefully) better things.