Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw Reviews 30 Minutes or Less
Where exactly does 30 Minutes or Less fit into the crowded lane of comedy films? The honest answer is somewhere in the nondescript middle. I once had a friend tell me that when it comes to attractiveness, it's better to be on the very high end, or very low end. Nobody really notices or remembers what's in the middle.
This theory (while usually applied to people) is certainly true for this film. Despite the fact that director Ruben Fleischer made a significant impression with his horror/comedy Zombieland, and the fact that the film's cast (Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) are all rising or established stars, somehow they (and the movie) quickly become stranded in mediocrity.
The story follows Nick (Eisenberg), a slacker whose only function in life is speeding through town delivering pizzas under the pressure of a "30 Minutes or Less" deadline. Nick's best (and seemingly only) friend is Chet (Ansari), a school teacher who has put aside his slacker ways. Chet is also a twin, and his sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) happens to be Nick's longtime secret crush. When this fact gets aired one night during a no-holds-barred bro-fight, Nick and Chet having a major falling out.
...Which doesn't last long, since Nick soon finds himself in the clutches of two monkey-masked conspirators named Dwayne and Travis (McBride and Swardson). They strap a bomb-vest to Nick to coerce him into robbing a bank, in order to get money to pay a hitman (Michael Peña) to kill Dwayne's militant father (Fred Ward), thereby leaving Dwayne to inherit daddy's multi-million Lotto fortune. Nick ropes Chet into helping carry out the brazen bank robbery mission - but of course, nothing goes as Nick, or his tormentors, initially plan.
30 Minutes or Less is a comedy that has a dumb plot, which fails to redeem itself through hilarity. The story and script by newcomer Michael Diliberti offer some hilarious moments, but not the kind to leave you in tears or go down in memory as classic comedy. For most of its thankfully brief runtime, the movie will keep you smiling, accented by a few good chuckles. On the whole, though, it's an entirely forgettable affair.
What works in the film is the chemistry between the actors. Given where their careers are now, seeing Eisenberg (an Oscar-nominee) paired with Ansari (a comedian on the rise) is definitely odd - but the two play off one another well and have some enjoyable banter. In scenes when he's on his own, Eisenberg's character Nick seems to be phoning it in when it comes to life, and Eisenberg himself seems to be phoning it in playing the part. At first Nick is a vacant and uninteresting character - when he's facing danger, we get the usual Eisenberg neurotic schtick. Thankfully Ansari is on hand to deliver some actual funny quips and one-liners, proving yet again that comedic timing and charisma are not skills that just any actor can master. You need actual comedians to bring the funny.
McBride and Swardson are the other comedic pairing of the movie, and fall into much of the same category as Eisenberg/Ansari: Swardson (a rising comedian) actually brings some great laughs as an awkward and dopey sidekick, while McBride (an established star) seems like he's phoning in an episode of his HBO series Eastbound & Down. The only difference between Dwayne and Kenny Powers, is that one character plays Major League Baseball in between his hair-brained schemes and self-deluded trash-talk. Paired together, however, the two dunderheads are amusing.
The real standout in the film is Michael Peña (Eastbound & Down, Observe and Report), who yet again makes a lot out of a little as the hitman "Chango," a no-nonsense thug who quickly tires of all the idiots he's dealing with. If there is one scene in the film that stands out in my memory, it's definitely Peña's bathroom mirror rant.
One thing a dumb comedy shouldn't do is make you question the technique of the man behind the camera; and yet, I found myself doing just that. The way Ruben Fleischer shoots the film is downright strange and often obtrusive - especially at the start. A lot of the shots in the first third of the film are so close and tight, and the editing so choppy, that it's distracting to the eye. Later, Fleischer starts to play with stylistic shooting techniques like slow-rotating establishing shots, which were baffling in a film this silly. By the final third of the movie, Fleischer settled into more standard shooting methods, which was fortunate. On the whole, though, it felt like the director was using this as a throwaway film to experiment with his style.
In the end, 30 Minutes or Less is bland, silly, and the story is full of plot holes and dangling threads. The performances of the actors fill a few of the gaps with some moderate humor, but the direction is a distraction. This is a movie you would be safe (even better off) approaching as a rental, if not as a premium cable channel premiere.
If you want to make up your own mind about whether or not 30 Minutes or Less is worth your movie ticket money, watch the trailer below: