30 Minutes or Less (2011) Movie Review

30 Minutes Or Less

Title: 30 Minutes or Less
Year: 2011
Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime
Play time: 1h 23min
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Aziz Ansari

Everyone in 30 Minutes or Less is a jerk. Even the good guys, the ones we’re meant to be rooting for – pizza delivery driver Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) and his substitute teacher roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari) – seem like unpleasant individuals, self-absorbed and kind of hateful, wallowing in their respective dead-end lives. While it’s actually nice, for once, to see a mainstream comedy where the main characters aren’t necessarily aspiring to be artists or architects or New Yorker contributors or whatever, there’s a noxious quality to what’s going on here, a “look at these assholes” undertone. The movie gives us a couple of ordinary lower-middle-class chaps who, it turns out, are ready to maim, rob and steal at the first opportunity.

30 Minutes or Less: Turns Out to be Fun in a Way!

It doesn’t start out that way. Nick and Chet are content enough with their existence, trading barbs and trolling for blow jobs, until Nick is taken prisoner by a couple of local morons (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), who outfit him with a bomb vest and tell him that it will explode unless he procures $100,000 within ten hours. (Not that it particularly matters, but the $100K is to be used to start a tanning salon front for a prostitution ring.) Scared and desperate, Nick pulls Chet out of class, and the two of them set off to rob the local Grand Rapids bank branch. And what do you know – wearing ski masks and threatening people with a fake pistol turns out to be fun.

If Nick and Chet are kind of dicks, McBride and Swardson’s would-be masterminds are just vile. McBride replicates his usual shtick, which involves spouting non sequitur obscenities with a straight face; it works okay in a cameo appearance (e.g., Due Date) or when the entire movie is pitched on his level (e.g., Your Highness). Here, pitted against the witty and whip-smart Jesse Eisenberg and on screen for roughly half the film, he is miserably unfunny,  and his indifferent vulgarity just seems like a comedian’s posturing. Swardson, a veteran Adam Sandler collaborator, doesn’t even have McBride’s distinctive delivery to fall back on; he is just a sneering, whiny little idiot.

Jesse Eisenberg Terrific Act

Eisenberg is admittedly terrific. His character is as snide and bitchy as The Social Network’s Mark Zuckerberg was, but also not as neurotic: Nick is coolly dismissive,  somewhat calculating, with a steady gaze and a quick insult at the ready. Eisenberg’s performance is a bit looser here than in the past, less nervy, combining his usual geeky energy with a touch of a leading man quality. It’s good work, too often betrayed by a script that seems more concerned with the type of joke it’s telling – Rape! Casual racism played for laughs! – than the quality of the joke itself. Which is really the more fundamental problem.

Did 30 Minutes or Less Delivered a Great Comedy?

Vulgar can be funny, and god knows so can mean. But 30 Minutes or Less just doesn’t deliver the laughs. I get the sense that director Ruben Fleischer zeroes in on great concepts and gets fixated on them; his debut, Zombieland, also starring Eisenberg, got off to a fun start, and then devolved into a chaotic, loud, largely charmless prototype of a “zombie comedy.”  This follow-up sounds great on paper – an R-rated, small-scale 83-minute comedy about a guy strapped to a bomb and forced to rob a bank – but quickly stalls in practice.  There’s a tendency to over-explain (a potentially funny moment with a supposedly hard-edged assassin repeating “I’m a pimp, I’m a pimp” and then whimpering as he pours peroxide on his wound is ruined when he makes an appeal to his mother – we get it, dude), and zero sustained momentum; the film’s only big laughs are throwaway moments, and they’re few and far between. Take out McBride and Swardson, and most of 30 Minutes or Less isn’t actively bad – but it’s shrugworthy even at its best.

What we’re left with, then, is a nasty little piece of work about some pretty bad people doing some pretty bad things. Though Eisenberg is fun to watch – and so, to a lesser degree, is Aziz Ansari – Nick and Chet don’t have much to recommend them. They’re petty and shallow and kind of unpleasant, and so is the film that contains them.

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