By modern movie standards, the polite action-comedy about bumbling criminals seems awfully quaint. Might some refreshment be had from a rude slacker comedy featuring utter dumbshit criminals?
Not from this one. Usefully misprinted in various sources as “30 Minutes of Less,” director Ruben Fleischer’s sophomore feature (following 2009’s Zombieland) does suggest a new benchmark in summer movie expectation tempering. 30 Minutes or Less is what it’s really called, in accordance with a pizza delivery plot point, but the truth is that we have about half an hour of material here, and it’s low-grade stuff. Keeping this in mind, the real title doesn’t help: If this picture needs a whole extra hour to get to us, we really shouldn’t have to pay for it.
The plot concerns criminal entrepreneurs Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) strapping a bomb to pot-smoking pizza delivery kid Nick’s (Jesse Eisenberg) chest and forcing him to rob a bank. A panicked Nick visits estranged friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) for help, and chaos ensues.
Considering that, in 2003, a pizza delivery guy really did rob a bank with a bomb strapped to himself (a situation that met a horrible, if Darwin Award-worthy outcome), one might expect such material to find its way into movies as part of a lofty, sneering Coen brothers comedy. Eisenberg, with his deadpan, above-it-all intelligence, might be right for that. Clever-but-callow is his thing, along with the oblique confidence that he himself might be enough to hold even the shabbiest movie together.
But the trade-off of Fleischer’s crude, anti-Coen sort of populism is a movie that doesn’t care at all about tidiness or coherence. In Zombieland, Fleischer’s shrugging stance passed for lightness of touch; here—among dopey down-and-outers in Grand Rapids, Mich., and their petty lethal schemes—it grates.
Seeing that a thing as weary and slapdash as 30 Minutes or Less isn’t entirely unfunny is a testament to its stars, particularly Eisenberg and McBride.
Narrowness of range was an asset for Eisenberg in The Social Network, a much more exactingly directed film. Here, it’s less useful, although he seems to know he’ll get his biggest laugh from a throwaway line about Facebook. Similarly, McBride is at the top of his own particular game of riffing gleefully on absolute repugnance, revealing the absurd, horrible monster in our pop cultural mirror. But is it his best destiny to help Fleischer finger the pulse of a certain aggro-dude demographic?
30 Minutes or Less also involves an inheritance; a ball-busting, ex-Marine father (Fred Ward); a gold-digging stripper (Bianca Kajlich); an ethnically flavorful hitman (Michael Peña); and a unanimous acceptance of preposterousness. Michael Diliberti’s script, adapted from a story he wrote with Matthew Sullivan, plants references to Point Break and Lethal Weapon throughout the film with only enough discernment to hope they’ll indemnify 30 Minutes’ own genre clichés. Progress, this ain’t.