Fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010′s “The Social Network”, Jesse Eisenberg shifts gears by starring in the wildly uneven action comedy, “30 Minutes Or Less”. A heist film, a queasy crime caper, a vulgar R-rated sex comedy, and a hyperkinetic cousin to the action movie buddy film genre, all in all, “30 Minutes Or Less” cannot stay focused long enough to succeed at any of the things it tries to be.
Nick (Eisenberg) is a carefree and rather careless pizza delivery guy for Vito’s, one of the last “30-minute-delivery-or-your-pizza-is-free” pizza places left on the planet. Able to maneuver his old exhausted blue Mustang in and around Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the skill of a Formula 1 race car driver, Nick is routinely late and tries to cut deals with his customers to avoid having to take the hit out of his paycheck for all of the free pizzas he ends up giving away.
Chet (Aziz Ansari) is Nick’s best friend, who works as a substitute teacher who may have finally landed a permanent third-grade teaching position. His twin sister Katie (Dilshad Vasaria), is a friend of Nick’s who shares some history with Nick and Chet finds it better if she wasn’t around all that much when he wants to hang out with his friend.
Late one night a pizza delivery call comes in from two other best friends, Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, respectively). After arriving at the residence things take a shocking turn as Nick gets attacked, knocked unconscious by ether, and awakens with a bomb vest tied to him. Dwayne informs Nick that he wants to bump off his father (Fred Ward) but needs $100,000 to hire the hitman boyfriend (Michael Pena) of a stripper named Juici (Bianca Kajlich) that Dwayne is friendly with. So, in their infinite wisdom, Dwayne and Travis strap the bombing vest on Nick and activate a timer which affords Nick 10 hours to rob a local bank and get Dwayne and Travis their money.
If all of this sounds familiar, vaguely or otherwise, you may recall the 2003 true story of Brian Douglas Wells, a Pennsylvania man who claimed to have been fitted with a neck collar bomb, which would detonate if he did not rob a local bank of $125,000 in a predetermined period of time. When the robbery went less than smoothly, Wells informed police officers at the scene that he had been attacked and forced to wear the device. Unsure of how to properly handle the situation, the bomb squad were called in but arrived too late, as the bomb detonated, fatally wounding Wells.
Although Columbia Pictures initially denied that the filmmakers and cast members possessed any knowledge of Wells’ story, screenwriter Michael Diliberti acknowledged that he did in fact know something about the real-life circumstances which clearly influenced his first screenplay. Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari make an interesting on-screen pair who are a bit hard to accept as the best of friends. With that said, Eisenberg is entertaining early on in the film and in a couple of early exchanges with Ansari, he seems to be trying to find a way to make his comedian co-star break on screen. Ansari may be quite funny in his supporting role on the television series, “Parks And Recreation”, but he is not up to snuff yet as a leading man. Here, his acting consists of one varying note of loud, abandoning any subtlety or depth to his character. Eisenberg is the one with the bomb vest on and is more restrained and calm in virtually every scene alongside Ansari. To act, you must deliver more than shrill and half-yelled witticisms to be effective. Ansari’s work here is a bit of a letdown.
Worse yet is the Danny McBride and Nick Swardson Experience, which embodies the crime element of the movie. At one time, I thought Danny McBride was funny on his HBO series, “Eastbound and Down” and in a couple of earlier small comedic roles in “Pineapple Express” and “Tropic Thunder.” No longer though. Here, he is either working on some new form of gonzo performance art-fueled comedic acting or he is disarmingly not funny. Watching McBride spit out vulgarities and crude one-liners with his disinterested, arrogant schtick is annoying and increasingly pointless. Then toss in Nick Swardson, another stand up comic people apparently like. He was downright embarrassing in the 2011 Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston comedy, “Just Go With It”, and together, you have two of the most uninteresting and awful criminals I have seen banded together in a long time. Sorry hipsters and cool kids. I don’t get these two at all.
At the end of the day when McBride and Swardson are not on screen, “30 Minutes Or Less” is passably entertaining. The film, when accounting for a full set of opening and concluding credits, runs a concise and efficient 83 minutes and doesn’t belabor its points. While much of the film is flat and much less entertaining than it thinks it is, I did appreciate the rapidity in which things unfolded and when Ansari is not shouting or bellowing his lines, he and Eisenberg do create some fun moments.
Michael Pena steals the film out from under everyone as the hitman boyfriend, who comes
off as a cross between a puffed chest, cold-blooded killer and a sleep-dictioned Napoleon Dynamite of sorts. If you want to be funny Mesrrs. McBride and Swardson, start there.
I wanted to like “30 Minutes Or Less” but simply fell short. I laughed at times and I appreciated the effort put forth by director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland). However, the film just contains all of this unrestrained stuff flying around aimlessly on screen. You get car chases, quick and fast-paced dialogue, nasty villains, explosions, violence, strip club debauchery, a love story, friends at odds with each other, a father embarrassed for his son, but disappointingly, the film never finds a proper focus for any of it.
“30 Minutes Or Less” is nothing more than wasted energy. I only wish some of that energy would have found its way to Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. Had they spent 30 seconds or less in this film, I would probably upgrade my rating.