30 Minutes or Less is an explosive action/comedy that delivers some irreverently rambunctious fun, and stars Jesse Eisenberg as a hapless pizza delivery boy forced to rob a bank. There’s enough racing cars, exploding vans and jarring violence to make this Columbia Pictures’ comedy not only dark, but extremely cheeky.
After garnering Oscar attention playing an asshole in David Fincher’s The Social Network, Eisenberg returns to familiar off-beat comedy stomping ground, “delivering” more than pizzas in the role of a stalled, depressive 20-something pizza boy who gets pulled into a hellish heist scenario.
Nick (Eisenberg) hates his jobs, has a terrible boss, and has to deliver his pizzas in 30 minutes or less or they’re free. The movie starts off with a thrilling race scene, as Nick speeds down the streets in his extremely dilapidated Mustang and runs red lights. He’s taking corners on two wheels, all the while watching the little timer on his dashboard.
Just as he pulls up to a nice suburban house, the timer hits zero. You might think this is indicative of most aspects of Nick’s life; struggling to make it but coming up short. But when two geeky teens answer the door, and Nick proceeds to con them out of 40 bucks, you realize he’s got the potential to succeed, he just lacks the motivation…and there’s nothing like being strapped into a bomb to provide motivation.
Nick comes with a lot of baggage, and when he picks a fight with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), all the skeletons come out of the closet, including the fact that Nick has been kind of dating Chet’s twin sister, Kate. That pretty much puts an end to the friendship.
To make matters worse, an obnoxious loser named Dwayne (Danny McBride) and his sycophantic sidekick Travis (Nick Swardson) are hatching a plan to steal some money. Dwayne and Travis spend most of their time playing with homemade explosives and air-humping 3D movie characters. Dwayne hates his father, an ex-marine who won the lottery and treats his son like the hired help.
After a stripper suggests he hire a hitman to kill his dad, Dwayne hatches the perfect plan. Since Dwayne has no money, he and Travis will make someone rob a bank for them, and with the money they’ll pay off the hitman.
Nick walks into this masterminded plan, and after a vest of explosives with a timer is forced on him, he has no choice but to rob the bank. His friend Chet decides to help him out, given the life or death situation, and Nick experiences a life-changing day.
This is your typical action/comedy, with a little more going on by way of self-referential humor and wit than most comedies of its ilk. It reminded me of Pineapple Express, but without all the drug humor. The action is fun, while the humor was definitely on the crude side, and what McBride film isn’t?
The funniest parts by far were the great nods and cultural references to iconic action pics from the 80s and 90s. There was a scene where Chet and Nick are trying to figure out how to rob the bank, when Chet reminds Nick that they already know how to because they’ve seen Point Break. Nick also makes a comment about hating Facebook, an obvious reference to his latest role in The Social Network, as well as a commentary on his character’s apathy.
Michael Diliberti penned this comedy, in his feature film screenwriting debut. As far as the writing and story goes, it’s not bad for a first time out. There’s the crudeness, of course, and some under-developed relationship/character elements, but on the whole, Diliberti gives the stellar comedic cast enough to run with.
And run with it they do. Only comedic heavy-weight McBride can bring a premise like this to life, and make it funny as well. Not many actors could pull off some of the lines he had to deliver in a believable way. McBride often plays the obnoxious jerk, and maybe that’s because he plays it so well. His delusional loser is so believable and detestable, the character immediately becomes one we all recognize and the laughs are pretty much ensured.
McBride and Swardson made a great comedy match-up. Swardson’s sidekick Travis was the perfect foil to McBride’s Dwayne. Travis came across as a likeable follower, and Swardson’s lisping quasi-gay delivery made the character generally riotous.
Eisenberg was certainly at his neurotic best as ne’er-do-well Nick. He played Nick with all the smart-alecky but whiny geek you could want, and his character is likeable even though he is somewhat self-involved. It’s a character we have seen Eisenberg play before, as there is always a little edge of the loveable neurotic in every role he takes on. Nevertheless, he was funny without having to rely on scripted jokes, as his “straight” guy dropped into hilarious situations made for good comedy.
Ansari is funny to watch, though I don’t think he’s a great actor. He was funny playing against Eisenberg’s paranoia and energy, but his character didn’t jump off the screen for me. Michael Pena played a scary gangster hitman, and proved he has some great natural comedic timing.
Ruben Fleischer re-teams with Eisenberg in another successful dark action/comedy. Fleischer directed Zombieland, which starred Eisenberg, back in 2009. Zombieland met with surprisingly popular success, and it put Eisenberg on the map as a bankable actor in a big way. Fleischer can definitely bring out the best in Eisenberg, playing up the actor’s inherent “neurotic geek” while showcasing his likable authenticity.
As far as directing, we definitely see shades of Zombieland. While there are no crazy fun graphics sliding across the screen, there is plenty of the same bold directing and a laid back style that allows the story and the characters to come to vivid life onscreen. Fleischer gives us a polished film, there’s no questioning that, but he does it in so playful a manner you don’t get complacent.
Scene composition is naturalistic, and the action sequences are irreverent but thrilling throwbacks to the seminal action pics that are so often referenced in the movie. The violence is jarring and often abrupt, which makes for a strange humor that is quite effective.
There certainly isn’t a dearth of these kinds of comedies out there right now, and it kind of feels like we’re experiencing the “Rise of the R-rated Comedy”. It makes me miss more wholesome comedic fare, though, as R-rated comedies are usually crude, low-brow, or contemptibly silly.
30 Minutes or Less is definitely one of the better ones, and fans of Eisenberg won’t be disappointed with his performance, or the material he’s given to work with. This film has enough of both action and comedy to appeal to multiple demographics, and as far as crude comedies go it’s a fun watch.