30 Minutes or Less
Simple, slapstick-heavy comedy delivers laughs fast-food-style
30 Minutes or Less
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson
Recall, if you can, the moment in Robert Altman’s The Player when a bunch of crass movie studio executives sit around decrying the need for screenwriters when stories can simply be plucked out of the newspaper free of charge. First-time screenwriter Michael Diliberti has beat such corporate shortcutting to the punch with 30 Minutes or Less, a raunchy, rapid-fire action-comedy based ever-so-loosely on the unbelievable true story of a Pennsylvania pizza delivery guy who was killed after being forced to rob a bank with a bomb strapped around his neck. Turned out the guy was in on the planning of the robbery all along—but that didn’t stop his compatriots from sorta blowing him up when things went south. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t think such a grisly tale would be an appropriate springboard for hilarity. But a gung-ho director and an able cast work some explosive laughs out of this touchy germ of an idea.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) is our protagonist Nick, a directionless twentysomething who finds himself shuttling pizzas for a third-rate pizza parlor in Grand Rapids, Mich. Even his slacker roommate Chet—a middle school substitute teacher played by Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”)—is starting to lose respect for the guy. One fateful day, however, two pinheaded pals named Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) hatch a ridiculous scheme. Seems Dwayne’s ex-Marine dad (Fred Ward) has won the lottery. But the old hard-ass isn’t interested in sharing any of that money with his unemployed son. So Dwayne figures he needs to hire a hit man to bump off his tightfisted pop. But where to get the money for such a scheme? Why not kidnap a pizza delivery boy, strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank? ... Well, I can think of several reasons why not, but Dwayne can’t, so we’re off and running.
The film’s ridiculous chain of events basically leads to a panic-stricken Nick, several pounds of C-4 strapped to his skinny chest, trying to rob a bank with the not-so-able assistance of his reluctant Indian-American pal. The high concept plot piles on the obstacles but doesn’t try for anything more complicated than “idiots rob a bank.” Fortunately, director Ruben Fleischer (who gave us the 2009 breakout Zombieland) knows how to massage the humor. Diliberti’s simple script occasionally goes for the easy chuckles (crude sexual references, rampant curse words, homosexual insults) but still manages to pull out some clever turns of phrase (as when Chet neatly sums up his pizza pal’s lack of adult ambition: “You ate a Lunchables for dinner last night!”). Frequent shout-outs to ’80s action flicks like Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop help set the manic, winking tone.
The best thing about the script is that it keeps up a “Simpsons”-like level of comic momentum. At a slim 83 minutes, the film never lets more than a minute slip by without firing off a joke. The cast members are definitely in shape for this kind of comic sprint. Eisenberg—his trademark air of petty impatience worked into manic overdrive here—continues to prove he’s a more versatile nerd than Michael Cera. Ansari serves as an able wingman. (His rant about Netflix is frighteningly spot-on.) Michael Peña (Crash) scores a memorable cameo as a loopy, gun-waving gangbanger, stealing thunder from the main characters whenever he can. Danny McBride remains a bit of an acquired taste and needs to learn how to tone his shit down every once in a while—but he’s appropriate for his role as the film’s bush-league bully. No cast member is exactly challenged in the acting department by the get-in/get-out plot and thinly sketched characters, but there’s never any illusion this is Oscar material. 30 Minutes or Less races recklessly ahead, spreading its jokes out shotgun-style and shutting everything down before the smoke has time to clear. Like its pizza-delivering main character, 30 Minutes or Less may lack ambition, but it gets the job done in a timely manner.