August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by Michael Diliberti
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Fred Ward, Bianca Kajilic and Michael Pena
It takes a ton of luck for any movie to get made. Even for the dumbest comedies to look like a real movie with decent images, passable audio and semi-believable acting you need a team of highly trained professionals at the top of their game to deliver something at least passably entertaining that won’t distract the audience with its shortcomings. As technical prowess goes, 30 Minutes or Less is surprisingly well crafted as far as action scenes are concerned, thanks, no doubt, in large part to the efforts of director Ruben Fleischer, who wowed us previously with the surprisingly fresh and irreverent zombie action comedy ‘Zombieland’. The problem with ’30 Minutes or Less’ is in the script. A Disney exec recently got candid with some media people and explained that scripts don’t matter. What matters is how low can a budget get for superior quality images and will people pay to see what you’re selling. 30 Minutes or Less was never destined to be a huge blockbuster, but it has potential to be a modest cult hit. It wont stand the test of time or of an On Demand rental afterlife, because the script simply isn’t up to snuff.
As with the images on screen, a script is made of many parts that must work together to coalesce into something believable, entertaining and satisfying. Not to say that 30 Minutes or Less isn’t entertaining- it is quite entertaining in a single serving way, but the plot is so full of holes and the final film feels so lazy that I hope there’s a director’s cut with an additional act tying up the litany of easily explainable loose ends.
The film has four stars in the form of two 2 man teams; Danny McBride and Nick Swardson play a pair of sycophantic dolts living meagerly off the fat of McBride’s Marine Corps veteran father, who, ten years prior, won a modest $10 million lottery. McBride is a loser and an idiot with no friends, no discernible talents and misplaced charisma. He leeches onto a weaker man played by the ever evolving Nick Swardson as a seemingly innocent man child with moments of intelligence seeping out between inane sycophantic conversations with the far more arrogant but far dumber McBride. To make a very dumb sequence short, McBride devises a overly convoluted plan to secure his and Swardson’s fortunes without lifting a finger. They’ll kidnap a pizza delivery boy, strap a bomb to him and force him to rob a bank and get them the money, lest he blow up if he doesn’t succeed.
That unfortunate pizza boy is played by Jesse Eisenberg in his trade mark fast talking slacker intellectual mode. He works for a pizza delivery company with an antiquated 30 minutes or its free delivery policy, while offering service to a ridiculously wide area of towns. Eisenberg’s character is constantly running up against the clock and negotiating with customers to not get stiffed, hence the title of the film. It’s pretty amazing when an actor can take any script and make you feel like he’s playing the same guy in different scenarios film to film. Sometimes it’s gratingly awful, such as with Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other lunk headed action heroes, but in Eisenberg’s case, he’s refreshingly sincere and self-effacing without seeming meek. Eisenberg is an aimless college graduate who works as a pizza boy. He lives with his best friend, played by Asis Anzari, as a man with a little more ambition who makes a decent living as a third grade teacher. Ansari shows a decent amount of range in this film, being funny while also having sincerely emotional moment. It’s also quite refreshing that an Indian plays a lead role in a film without a single reference to his ethnicity.
Suffice it to say, Eisenberg finds himself strapped with a bomb and with nobody else to turn to, he asks his best friend to help him out of the situation. The bank robbery turns out to be the tip of the iceberg. It was almost confusing to me when that section of the film was wrapped up within the first 30 minutes and we were left with another hour of action. Enter Michael Pena in his signature silly psychopath mode with a mild lisp and a serenely humorous indifference to human life as a hit man going after pretty much every other character in the story. Pena’s psychopathic tendencies and McBride’s lunkheaded plotting finds Eisenberg and Ansari on the run from two moronic criminal factions as they try to find a way to disarm the bomb and get rid of $100,000 in stolen cash before its too late.
The way the film is wrapped up is completely illogical with many key sequences cut short or excised altogether in favor of throwaway lines of expository dialogue used to fill in the gaps. There’s a lot of entertaining banter and a couple of impressive action sequences in the middle (though, to go along with the plot hole heavy script, there’s also an inexplicable use of an 80’s song squarely associated with action juggernaut ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ that feels very out of place in a modern movie) but the script ultimately feels quite lazy with a few conveniently oversimplified sequences wrapping up useless characters’ thin arcs and excising the kind of final wrap up scenes so popular in the 80’s with the emergency vehicles and our hero on the back of an ambulance being apologized to by a hot headed superior or cop who just got definitive proof of our hero’s innocence while the girl runs up and plants a big wet one on the guy’s bruised and battered lips. It might have been hokey, but those sequences at least gave films closure.
Nowadays the convention is to have no conventions and though sometimes it can work, most often it will leave attentive audience members frustrated and disappointed by a high concept with a low execution. 30 Minutes or Less is a clever concept with a no so clever script, but it wouldn’t be the least entertaining hour and a half ever spent at the movies if you bothered to sit through this leap frogging action comedy.
NOTE: There was an eerily similar true story that occurred in 2003, in which 46 year old pizza delivery man Brian Douglas Wells died after a bomb exploded around his neck after a failed bank robbery. Check out the full true story, with very similar details to the film, at this wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Douglas_Wells
The film makers swear the idea was original.