Reviewing director Ruben Fleischer’s 30 MINUTES OR LESS holds special significance for me because my very first review was ZOMBIELAND, which also happened to be Fleischer’s first film. ZOMBIELAND wasn’t amazing, but it sure as hell was entertaining and it had great fun dealing with the conventions of the by now overplayed zombie genre. That first film made me anticipate Fleischer’s follow up film and now its finally come…and gone. I don’t know if studio meddling was involved in the making of this picture, but its difficult to fathom the idea that 30 MINUTES OR LESS is the product of the guy who made ZOMBIELAND. Sure, the style of humor has remained the same and, in fact, 30 MINUTES OR LESS has even upped the vulgarity a notch, but other than that, this is one of the sloppiest movies I have seen this year.

The filmmakers claim that its not, but 30 MINUTES OR LESS is loosely based, or at least very, very similar to, a true account. Jesse Eisenberg plays a slacker pizza delivery boy who is never able to meet the “30 minutes or less” delivery guarantee of his asshole boss’ pizza shop. He’s roommates with his best friend, Aziz Ansari, but the two have just had an argument and now their friendship is over. In the meantime, we get introduced to Danny McBride and his delinquent friend, Nick Swardson. McBride still lives at home under the domineering shadow of his military dad, who is played by Fred Ward. McBride cannot wait to live on his own and have his own life. One day he confides in a stripper that he plans on killing his father so that he can get all his millions and open up a tanning salon that will really be a front for a prostitution ring. The stripper tells him she knows just the right person to help McBride kill his dad. However, after meeting the stripper, McBride and his buddy decide that a better idea will be to kidnap some unlucky soul, strap a real bomb on their chest, and make that person go and rob a bank in order to get the money that McBride needs for his business venture. That unlucky soul turns out to be Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg is given 10 hours to pull off a bank heist, which he does with the help of Aziz Ansari (after they patch things up). Of course, nothing is that simple, and what was a seemingly easy bank job turns out to be a complicated mess all wrapped into an action-comedy story that I think was intended to be an homage to the buddy action movies of the 80s.

First, I just want to thank Columbia Pictures with the bottom of my heart for making sure the film’s running time is only 1 hour and 23 minutes. Even that length proved to be too much for this film. In watching 30 MINUTES OR LESS, I got the feeling that Ruben Fleischer wasn’t sure of the direction he wanted his movie to take. I’ve read in various online reports that the director intended this film to be a buddy action-comedy that would be reminiscent of 1980’s buddy action comedies like LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD (both of these films are mentioned by Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari during the movie). Some parts of the film, such as the bank heist and subsequent car chase sequences, do remind you of those earlier films, but all in all, 30 MINUTES OR LESS doesn’t contain enough references in the narrative or even its concept to pay tribute to 80s buddy action comedies. If you want to truly see an homage to a genre done right, check out Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL movies. Tarantino takes the defining elements of kung fu and samurai movies and crafts an original film that serves as both an homage and a film that stands among those older movies. 30 MINUTES OR LESS is an utter failure in that regard and simply having a few action scenes populated by actor-comedians whose lines mention LETHAL WEAPON and DIE HARD is not enough.

However, most people who saw the trailer and went out and paid to see 30 MINUTES OR LESS were probably unaware of Ruben Fleischer’s reasons for making this film and they probably could care less anyway. If nothing else, this movie’s appeal stems from its interesting concept and its cast. Jesse Eisenberg’s cachet has certainly increased since he starred in ZOMBIELAND as he’s gained worldwide fame for playing Mark Zuckerberg in last year’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Although he doesn’t quite deliver the same performance from film to film like Michael Cera does in his movies, there’s not a whole lot of variety in Eisenberg’s performances either. Here, he pretty much does what he’s done in most of his films. 30 MINUTES OR LESS also has the always hilarious (in small doses) Danny McBride and the (sometimes) funny Aziz Ansari.

Over the past year, McBride has been skating near the edge of becoming overplayed in the same way that Jack Black and Zach Galifianakis have already become. The issue I have always had with McBride is that beyond the short 30 minutes episodes he stars in on EASTBOUND & DOWN, McBride’s brand of comedy gets old very quickly. This problem was apparent in this year’s YOUR HIGHNESS, which he also starred in. There is only so long that you can sit and watch McBride act like an asshole before you get sick of him. The same is true in 30 MINUTES OR LESS. McBride’s character is essentially the same one he plays in EASTBOUND & DOWN and because I like that show, I was able to digest his schtick for a little while longer than I otherwise would. McBride has some great lines and put-downs in the film, but again, its not something that I haven’t already heard in EASTBOUND & DOWN.

As for Aziz Ansari, I’m one of the few out there who doesn’t find Ansari to be the comedic genius that everyone else seems to think he is. He’s funny. There is no doubting that, but he isn’t consistent and I always come away only remembering that he yells all the time. This film doesn’t change my mind about Ansari’s comedic skills and, in fact, lessens my regard of him. I’ve said this before in past reviews, but I never know why anyone would cast a comedian in a movie only to have him or her be the straight (not in a gay way) person. Why not just simply cast a serious actor instead? In 30 MINUTES OR LESS, Ansari’s character isn’t completely serious, but he’s woefully underutilized. Much of his scenes are not funny and are not played to be funny.

My overall feelings about the comedy in 30 MINUTES OR LESS is that there wasn’t a single scene in the film that made me laugh out loud. That is a problem given the premise of the film, the film’s cast, and the fact that the movie is intended to be funny. With a film that’s already crippled by the fact that its not very funny, this leaves us with the narrative. As I said before, one of the movie’s strengths lies in its interesting concept. Kidnapping a pizza guy and strapping a real bomb on him to do your dirty work in 10 hours presents a treasure load of ideas that could have turned this film into a classic. Instead, 30 MINUTES OR LESS is chock full of implausible, head-scratcher situations. For instance, right after Eisenberg and Ansari step outside the bank they just robbed, they remove their ski masks. Why? For no logical reason. With their faces exposed, they’re immediately confronted by a cop. Despite the fact that he’s pointing a gun at them, he ends up running away when they show him the bomb strapped to Eisenberg’s chest. Now you would think he would run off and get back-up right? Wrong. Even more confounding is why Ansari, who DOESN’T have a bomb attached to his chest and he has a job that pays the bills and he’s no longer friends with Eisenberg’s character, would simply leave his job and decide nilly-willy to help Eisenberg rob a bank like its no big deal. What’s even more confounding than this is why Eisenberg or Ansari simply call the cops to tell them some dudes just attached a ticking time bomb and are forcing them to rob a bank. Sure, the bad guys are shown tracking their moves in a minivan, but are you telling me that neither of our intrepid characters can find a way to get law enforcement to handle this situation? Its not like McBride has some tracing device on Eisenberg that will signal McBride the second Eisenberg calls the cops. Anyway, you get the point. 30 MINUTES OR LESS doesn’t seem to bother itself with resolving these essential plot holes and it instead concerns itself with setting up funny situations that are not very funny.

The one bright spot in 30 MINUTES OR LESS is the absolutely hilarious role played by Michael Pena. I first saw Pena in the underrated OBSERVE AND REPORT and he stole the spotlight in that film too. Here he plays a gangster pimp and I would have paid serious money just to see a movie about him. It was also nice to see the film was shot in Michigan and it sort of evokes a romanticism of shitty American cars through Eisenberg’s love of his old, janky car. Other than that, 30 MINUTES OR LESS is a unsteady comedy that falls more into simple nastiness than actually being funny.

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