30 Minutes or Less ** ½
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer.
Written by: Michael Diliberti.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Nick), Danny McBride (Dwayne), Aziz Ansari (Chet), Nick Swardson (Travis), Dilshad Vadsaria (Kate), Michael Peña (Chango), Bianca Kajlich (Juicy), Fred Ward (The Major).
Jesse Eisenberg is one of the best young actors working today. In films like The Squid and the Whale, The Hunting Party, Zombieland, Adventureland, Solitary Man and of course The Social Network, he has proven to be versatile and effective in a variety of roles. However, he is not quite good enough to prove to me that he is a 25 year old slacker who still works delivering pizzas in his latest film, 30 Minutes or Less. He simply seems too smart, too driven to be this lackadaisal in a movie. It’s not that he is bad in 30 Minutes or Less, but he is simply miscast. And that kind of describes the movie as well - not bad, just not quite right either. It’s a little too dark and violent to be a truly good black comedy, but not serious enough to be an effective thriller. It’s straddles the line ineffectively.
Eisenberg stars as Nick, who has no ambition in life except to get high and watch action movies with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari). Oh, and sleep with Chet’s sister Kate (Dilshad Vadasaria) once again like he did on high school graduation night, and has been pining for over the last seven years. On a routine delivery, he is jumped by Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) and knocked out. When he regains consciousness, Dwayne and Travis are in monkey masks, and reveal that they have strapped a bomb to Nick’s chest. He has 9 hours to rob a bank and get $100,000 and give it to them, or the bomb goes off. Dwayne and Travis need the money, because they have hired Chango (Michael Pena), through his stripper girlfriend Juicy (Bianca Kajlich) to kill Dwayne’s father The Major (Fred Ward). The Major won the lottery years before, and Dwayne wants his hardass father off his case, and get his hands on the money now. Nick decides he has no choice but to rob the bank, and enlists the help of Chet. But of course, things don’t go according to plan.
The film is directed by Ruben Fleischer, who made his debut two years ago with Zombieland, also starring Eisenberg. That film straddled the line between horror and comedy pretty much effortlessly, and the result was one of the most entertaining films in recent years. Unfortunately, 30 Minutes or Less does not straddle the similar line between crime film and comedy nearly as effectively. The film starts out as a straight ahead comedy - and its here where the film is at its best. Despite being miscast, Eisenberg is funny at the beginning of the film, and he is aided a great deal by Ansari, who puts his motor mouth comic persona (effectively of display on the show Parks and Recreation) to good use. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are best used in small doses, and at first, their idiotic interplay works well. For the first 45 minutes or so, I thought the film was pretty good.
Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, it becomes darker and less effective. The film becomes more violent than I was prepared for, and that violence doesn’t really work well, with the films stoner comedy vibe that keeps popping its head in there. The last half of the movie is an uneasy mix of crime film and comedy, and it quite simply doesn’t work.
30 Minutes or Less isn’t a bad film by any means. It has enough in it that you will most likely be mildly amused by it, and not feel ripped off or bored by the film. Yet the film isn’t very satisfying either. It’s just kind of there. I hope that all involved go on to make better films than 30 Minutes or Less.