With Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Fred Ward; Running Time: 83 minutes; Rated R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence); Written by Michael Diliberti; Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
30 MINUTES OR LESS is a shaggy dog story. There’s no real point to it and the action goes on and on simply for the sake of having something happen. It is occasionally amusing and it moves at a steady clip, but don’t make the mistake in assuming that anyone involved had anything to say. This is a movie you can begin forgetting as you’re leaving the theater.
The contrived premise has Dwayne (Danny McBride) resenting his ex-Marine dad (Fred Ward) who is squandering his winnings in the Michigan State Lottery without a thought to his sole heir. One night at a stripper club, Dwayne is told he can hire someone to eliminate his father for a mere $100,000. Dwayne and his idiot sidekick Travis (Nick Swardson) create a plot in which they will have someone rob a bank of the $100,000 they need to pay a hitman (Michael Peña). Enter hapless pizza delivery guy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg).
After ordering a pizza and knocking out Nick, Dwayne and Travis bind him with explosives. They tell him he will either rob a bank for them or they will blow him up. The rest of the story for this brief (under 90 minutes) film is about how Nick and his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) plot to rob the bank to satisfy Dwayne and get the bomb removed.
Those focusing on the story are missing the point. We quickly realize that with the exception of Chet’s sister (Dilshad Vasaria) there’s no one here we really care about. For the most part the characters are selfish and mean, and leave a lot of damage in their wakes. And those are the good guys. We may briefly sympathize a bit with Dwayne – considering how abusive his father is – but he’s a pretty nasty piece of work himself. In short, it’s hard to find anyone we like.
For director Ruben Fleischer this is a less-than-ideal follow-up to “Zombieland.” While the cast, particularly Eisenberg and McBride, run with their thinly-sketched characters, for the most part the people here are ciphers who act as the plot requires with no real thought as to how actual people in this situation might respond. Ansari, as Eisenberg’s high school friend, is a case in point. Much is made about how they betrayed each other over the years and now Eisenberg is in a dead-end job delivering pizzas while Ansari is a public school teacher. Yet when the plot requires them to work together to plan a bank robbery, they do so, with little concern about what has come earlier.
“30 Minutes Or Less” is a check-your-brains-at-the-door sort of comedy, where you shouldn’t waste a moment considering the logic of plot or characterization. If you’re willing to play along, it’s not without its thrills and laughs. However if you insist that movies be internally consistent and logical, you’re going to have some problems here. It’s those problems that separate agreeable silliness like this from the truly great comedies.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.