August 12, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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30 MINUTES OR LESS – Watch It At Home:  Doesn’t Deliver


The frustration of 30 MINUTES OR LESS is that of all the R-rated comedies this summer, it was the one with the most original premise and promising credentials:  direction by Ruben Fleischer, the man behind the surprisingly smart and funny hit Zombieland, and a cast headed by Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari.  In the hands of the Coen Brothers, its mix of comedy and doublecross-riddled violent action could have been genius; even with the Guy Ritchie of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch calling the shots, it might have been slick, blackly-comic fun.  The result here, though, is half-baked.


The basic situation is based loosely on a real-life incident:  an innocent was strapped to a bomb and forced to rob a bank as proxy for the real thieves.  (Things didn’t end well for the patsy.)  In 30 Minutes Or Less, the victim is Eisenberg as Nick, a pizza guy who heads out to make a routine delivery and finds himself in the hands of Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson).  Dwayne’s demented plan is to use the $100,000 Nick will rob from the bank to hire a hit man (Michael Pena) who will kill Dwayne’s stern father (Fred Ward) and enable Dwane to collect dad’s lottery winnings.  Meanwhile, Nick’s first instinct once he’s been wired with explosives is to go to his best friend Chet (Ansari), and even though the two of them have just had a falling-out (Chet found out that Nick slept with his sister; Nick discovered that Chet broke up Nick’s parents’ marriage), Chet is pal enough to help him rob the bank.  To the credit of the script by Michael Dilberti (based on a story by Dilberti and Matthew Sullivan), that’s actually when the movie gets more interesting, and the last section of the picture works the best, as the pieces of the storyline start to come together.  By then, though, a lot of the comedy has dissipated.


Zombieland also had a loose structure that accumulated suspense as it went on, but it had its horror movie structure going for it, as well as a letter-perfect cast that was all on the same wavelength.  The performers in 30 Minutes are less unified.   Eisenberg and Ansari make a terrific comic pair, with complimentary passive-agggressive styles (the fact that Eisenberg is co-starring with Woody Allen in Allen’s next movie suggests one of those time travel movie bits where Character From the Future can’t meet Character From the Past or the time/space continuum will explode).  Pena, too, is hilarious in a more high-energy way when he enters the story in the second half.  The main problem is McBride and Swardson who, if they’re not actually incapable of entering into an ensemble (McBride showed that he can modulate his style in Up In the Air), certainly have little interest in doing so.  Instead, they repeat the same broad, imbecile schtick that they do in every single project they take on, which is starting to wear more than a little thin.   Here, it unbalances the entire movie.  (Consumer note:  attached to prints of 30 Minutes are trailers for an upcoming Swardson starring vehicle–from Adam Sandler’s production company, of course–called Bucky Larson:  Born To Be A Star, which looks to be an early contender for Worst Movie of the Decade.)

The mixtures of laughter and violent thrills that Fleischer seems to favor–30 Minutes includes a nod to Die Hard–are tricky engines (even the Coens screwed up The Ladykillers), and one or two elements out of place can make the whole vehicle feel silly.  Fleischer is a whiz at pacing–30 Minutes, with credits and a post-credits coda scene, runs only 83 minutes–and amping up the narrative as the story moves forward (mention should also be made of editor Alan Baumgarten), but 30 Minutes needed to be a more complicated piece of work than Zombieland, because the bad guys are humans with motivations, ridiculous but also menacing, who require some degree of emotional believability.  While Pena handles that combination beautifully, McBride and Swardson don’t provide anything beyond the most superficial gags. (Fleischer’s next picture will be his first straight drama, the big-budget period thriller Gangster Squad with Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone–it’ll be interesting to see how he handles a completely different genre rhythm.)

Despite its flaws, 30 Minutes Or Less is fairly watchable.  It’s great fun to see Eisenberg and Ansari bounce dialogue off each other, and the last act of the story has some effective reversals.  It’s the most conceptual of the season’s comedies, though, and doesn’t find a way to make its parts form a satisfying whole. As delivered, it doesn’t earn a tip.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."