Mark Reviews Movies

30 Minutes or Less


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Peña, Bianca Kajlich, Fred Ward

MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence)

Running Time: 1:23

Release Date: 8/12/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 11, 2011

Say what you will about the clichéd nature of the ticking clock, but it's a gimmick like few others that has the ability—no matter how arbitrarily it may do so—to propel a narrative forward. The device (both in the figurative and literal sense) of 30 Minutes or Less is about as personal as it gets for its hero—a bomb locked to his chest—and yet the move is lacking a sense of urgency to go along with it.

In fact, once the initial shock of the revelation passes, no one on screen seems to care much about the fact that someone has a bomb unwillingly strapped to his body. The characters' detachment permeates the tone of the entire movie under the direction of Ruben Fleischer, who, along with screenwriter Michael Diliberti, has a difficult time not reveling in the laid-back jesting of this rogue's gallery of a cast of characters.

They are divided into two groups: the forced upon and the forcers. The head of the first is Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a regular, old pizza delivery guy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has developed expert driving skills from the demands of his job. Obviously, this talent will come in handy, though, in one of the movie's many missed opportunities to capitalize on its earlier setups, not that often.

He's sick and tired of his life and only looks forward to the time he spends with Chet (Aziz Ansari), his best friend since childhood, and Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria), Chet's sister. Even those relationships become difficult when Kate reveals she'll be moving out of state to pursue a career opportunity and Chet and Nick fight over past indiscretions of their friendship, such as Nick sleeping with Kate and Chet inadvertently breaking up Nick's parents with gossip.

The second group is led by Dwayne (Danny McBride), the lazy son of a strict military man known only as the Major (Fred Ward). He has dreams and aspirations, namely opening a brothel disguised as a tanning parlor, but it's his father who has the money for such an endeavor. Dad has no intention of helping his son and for good reason, considering Dwayne's solution is kill off his old man for the inheritance with the help of his best friend Travis (Nick Swardson).

Dwayne and Travis—especially Dwayne—are sociopaths. There is nothing amusing about them or their plan (especially considering how genuinely funny Ward is in his limited role, particularly when he faces a gunfight and grabs a pen, and how well-deserved his derision toward his son is), and it's only made worse by McBride and Swardson, who play up the roles for the easy laughs of their combined and individual stupidity and the unrequited but repeatedly referenced sexual tension between them. Even Travis' developing guilty conscience can't redeem the fact that he and partner-in-crime aren't funny.

Their final plan is to hire the boyfriend (Michael Peña, doing a humorous take on the hardened murderer) of a stripper (Bianca Kajlich) to kill the Major and pay him off by coercing Nick to rob a bank for the fee. Travis, an explosives "expert," rigs the bomb to Nick, after which the unlucky delivery guy has 10 hours to obtain the money.

The movie's funniest scene involves Nick and Chet, whom Nick recruits to aid him in his time of trouble, stumbling through a bank heist with unlikely success. An accidental shooting happens, an offer to reimburse the victim for the error goes bad, and an unprepared police officer responds to the sight of Nick's explosive device with the only sane action. Not long after this sequence, which is full of anxious energy that actually plays out the comic potential of the setup, starts, the script does away with it for a fairly standard car chase.

Eisenberg (whose first, terrified reaction to the reality of the situation in which he finds himself is just the right starting point for a different interpretation of events) and Ansari sound off each other pretty well, but Diliberti concentrates their characters' dynamic on petty bickering. This leaves both of them coming across as underwhelmed by everything happening around them, making random jokes here and there as they shop for supplies and prepare toy guns for their robbery.

The scenario here demands a tenor of panicked frenzy to underscore its desperate nature. 30 Minutes or Less gives the impression of a leisurely stroll in the park.

Note: Some fuss has been made about the possibility that Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan (who has a story credit) exploited a real-life event of a pizza deliveryman who, in 2003, robbed a bank while having a bomb locked to his neck (He died as a result). I had not heard of the story until after seeing the movie (and after reading up on it, it's not as black-and-white as it sounds at first), and though the official studio stance is that they were unaware (and that Diliberti and Sullivan were only vaguely aware) of the actual case, it would be odd if it weren't related on a basic level. Still, it's only a distraction, and 30 Minutes or Less has bigger problems than whether or not it has a basis in reality.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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