REVIEW: 30 Minutes or Less [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 83 minutes | Release Date: August 12th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Ruben Fleischer
Writer(s): Michael Diliberti / Michael Diliberti & Matthew Sullivan (story)

“You? An adult? You had a Lunchables for dinner last night!”

Hot off the success of his feature length debut Zombieland, director Ruben Fleischer reunites with Jesse Eisenberg to bring Michael Diliberti’s screenplay to life. Entitled 30 Minutes or Less, it can be easily deduced that Eisenberg’s Nick is a pizza delivery boy. Speeding through stop signs, red lights, and utilizing his parking brake for screeching 180s in order to satisfy customers and not have his paycheck docked for freebies, this is not the neurotic, socially challenged character we’re used to him playing. Besides breaking traffic laws, he smokes pot, steals from unsuspecting minors, and doesn’t really care about anything. With this laissez-faire attitude, he watches action flicks til dawn, plays video games with best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), and remains silent as the girl he loves (Dilshad Vadsaria’s Kate) decides to move to Atlanta without knowing his true feelings. He’s in his twenties, out of college, and delivering pizzas for minimum wage; life couldn’t get worse, right?

Wrong. Allowing his boss—the genial Italian chef on television, but takes-no-crap taskmaster at the store—to walk all over him again, Nick takes one last delivery even though his shift ends in ten minutes. Driving out to an abandoned scrap yard, he exits his car with the pies and comes face-to-face with two criminals in gorilla masks; lead pipes swing and a chloroform handkerchief presses firmly to his face. Kidnapped and woken up to find a bomb strapped to his chest, Nick discovers he has been enlisted to rob a bank of $100,000 in ten hours or less, his life literally depending on it. Scared and clueless towards his next move, he drives over to the school where Chet works, fills his friend in on the details and begs for help. The realization is reached that there is no other choice, they will go to the Family Dollar for supplies and then knock off the local branch with Point Break filling in as their blueprint how-to.

The reason Nick gets caught up in such chaos is because two smalltime imbeciles get the ball rolling on a scheme to knock off the one’s father and inherent what’s left of his ten million dollar lottery payday. Dwayne (Danny McBride) has been biding his time, but patience has run thin and his dad’s (Fred Ward) penchant for letting his ex-Marine training come through in his parenting is too much to bear. So, along with his entrepreneurial best friend Travis (Nick Swardson), he takes the advice of the stripper giving him a lap dance by hiring a hitman to do the deed. It’s $100,000 for the job and its reward will be one million. But if he can hire someone to do the murder, why not get someone else to acquire the money? With Travis’s bomb-making prowess and his own lofty aspirations of leadership stemming from unresolved Daddy issues, they put the plan in motion, strap a bomb to Nick, and tail him to make sure the deed gets done.

Without much more needed in terms of character development, 30 Minutes or Less puts its foot on the gas and fills up its paltry runtime with as much action-packed laughs as it can muster. Both duos are complete amateurs when it comes to crime and the antics that ensue show as much. McBride is his usual egomaniacal self with big dreams and little brains; Swardson is the naïve innocent following his idol to war, a permanent childlike sensibility showing through in his inability to be mean and his dancing monkey miming when in costume; Ansari is manic to the extreme, his motor-mouthed delivery masking what he lacks in acting talent, becoming a full-on confident criminal mastermind spouting gems when his ski mask is on; and Eisenberg excels in a variation on his type that eventually falls into the norm once his fear of blowing up takes over. More an extended skit with improvised takes than a fully fleshed-out film, the situations onscreen are funny—a weird wrestling fight between Nick and Chet over the latter’s sister Kate and the actual bank heist are highlights—but it’s what the actors do within them that’s memorable.

We never have time to really care about anyone since it all moves so briskly, instead resorting to simply watching the hilarity. Whether Nick blows up or not, we really don’t care; it’s the journey that matters. The laughs are big at times and steady if you can overlook the laidback atmosphere cultivated and the dry deliveries. Ansari and McBride are somewhat wooden like they always seem to be, so you either love them or hate them. Thankfully, though, their companions have a bit more range to play off of and keep things moving. Swardson is a riot due to his completely straight-faced line readings no matter how stupid the lines and Eisenberg shows a nice handling of a role with some guts behind the meek exterior. I’m not sure how accurate it would be to call a role in a throwaway comedy an evolution of type, but there is some believability that his Nick is not merely a nerdy punching bag.

Nothing about the love story between Nick and Kate is worth exploring besides her use as a pawn in the overall game, the motivations behind Dwayne and Travis is as flimsy and shallow as explained above, and Nick and Chet’s friendship is one we’ve seen often in buddy comedies of this sort—they fight, they laugh, and they so some crazy things. Some small parts remain memorable whether the brilliant use of Glenn Fry’s “The Heat is On” during a car chase escape or the constant backfiring of plans by both sides, neither having clue number one of what to do besides what they’ve seen in the movies. If one thing does rise above the rest, however, it is Michael Peña’s hysterical turn as Chango the hitman. His speech patterns, complete disregard for human life, and soft-spoken volatility are fantastic as his ‘impatient face’ turns into the blood-crazed whipping boy of the film. It all works towards a huge confrontation with everyone present and finally ends in proper fashion with a joke and sharp cut to black, finishing before we have time to decide whether we loved or hated it, a last laugh to makes us believe the former.

[1] Aziz Ansari, left, and Jesse Eisenberg in Columbia Pictures’ ’30 Minutes or Less.’ Photo by: Wilson Webb.
[2] Danny McBride and Nick Swardson in Columbia Pictures’ ’30 Minutes or Less,’ also starring Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari. Photo by: Wilson Webb.
[3] Michael Pena in Columbia Pictures’ ’30 Minutes or Less,’ also starring Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari. Photo by: Wilson Webb.

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