Review: Ruben Fleischer's '30 Minutes or Less' is 83 Mins of Fast Fun
by Jeremy Kirk
August 11, 2011
30 Minutes or Less is 83 minutes long. While that might seem like a trifling amount of time to build and execute a story with fully fleshed out characters, it's not. The days of 150 minute long comedies are upon us, and while filmmakers like Judd Apatow are hitting a few doubles between home runs, Ruben Fleischer is taking a different angle. For his efforts, he's hitting some pretty solid long balls himself. 30 Minutes or Less is quick, it's kinetic, but most importantly, it's riotous, and what it loses in character journey or narrative arc it more than makes up for in pace and precision. Like a well-timed smack of humor, it hits you, spins you around, and runs away. You're not even really sure what happened when all is said and done.
At the center of the brisk comedy is Jesse Eisenberg as Nick, a pizza delivery boy whose life isn't exactly on the right path. He doesn't get along with his "best friend", Chet, played by Aziz Ansari, he pines over Chet's sister who considers him just a friend, and worst of all, he's just been kidnapped by a couple of losers looking to make a quick million.
Those losers are Dwayne, played by Danny McBride, and Travis, played by Nick Swardson. Dwayne only desires to please his abrasive father, a retired major who won the lottery, long enough until the old man bites it so Dwayne can reek the inheritance. But time moves too slowly, and Dwayne seeks out a plan to hire a hitman, played by Michael Pena, to take out the major. First, he needs cash to pay said hitman. Enter Nick. Dwayne and Travis strap a bomb to Nick and force him to rob a bank, return the money to them, and they'll diffuse the bomb. Nick involves Chet to help him out, and, as with any decent comedy, explosions of hilarity quickly ensue.
You can add an emphasis on the word "quickly", too. 30 Minutes or Less, directed by Zombieland helmer Ruben Fleisher, moves with the pace of a street racer. With a narrative under such strict time constraints - the bomb attached to Nick has a ticking clock - there isn't a moment to dawdle around things like side characters or subplots. Both exist in 30 Minutes or Less, but the side characters aren't a hindrance and the subplots aren't particularly heavy. There's just enough interaction between Nick and Chet's sister Kate, played by Dilshad Vadsaria, to build a connection, and like any well structured screenplay, she comes to play a part in the main story.
The same goes for Pena's hitman, a device that almost seems unnecessary in the first half of the film. You wonder why screenwriter Michael Diliberti even included this character. Why couldn't Dwayne and Travis just force Nick to rob a bank for the $100,000 they order him to get? The $1 million inheritance and the hitman seem thrown in to flesh out an otherwise thin script. However, like the love interest, this too comes into play before film's end, and Pena nearly steals every scene in which his airheaded assassin appears.
He struggles to steal it away from Eisenberg and Ansari, though. Eisenberg plays the movie's hero with full confidence, turning the sadsack and Mark Zuckerberg aura completely off. Any crying that Eisenberg always plays the same role can officially be killed and buried now. Ansari provides loads of loud comedy. While he's known for being loud when delivering his particular brand of humor, it's different with Chet. He's not noisy to be noticed. He's noisy because he's in a ridiculous situation that could get him killed. The two play well off one another, and the moments in 30 Minutes or Less where they're working together is every bit as entertaining as those involving them arguing or actually coming to physical violence.
But on the other side of the comedic coin are McBride and Swardson, two actors who end up working well off one another despite McBride's characteristic schtick. We've seen the rakish redneck gimmick a few times before with McBride. Actually it's more than calls to counted, but that's precisely what we get in 30 Minutes or Less. He's funny. That's for certain, but the typical Danny McBride routine is beginning to wear on the nerves, particularly in a film where moral implications get sideswiped by through traffic. Swardson, on the other hand, holds his own well, playing the inept and naive sidekick to McBride's iniquitous and nettlesome mastermind. They're like Otis and Lex Luthor, if Lex Luthor had a mullet and habituated strip clubs.
But the connections between the two leads or the two villains are not an issue when you're dealing with a movie like 30 Minutes or Less. Fleisher and Diliberti have one intention and one intention alone. That is to flash humor and action past your eyes and entertain you for less than 90 minutes. That is precisely what is accomplished with this movie. The characters are game pieces, if they didn't have to converse or spill out expository dialogue they probably wouldn't. The motivations are ancillary.
The only true need here is energetic entertainment, and that's exactly what you get. No more. No less. 30 Minutes or Less may not go down as one of the most memorable comedies of recent memory. It might not sit alongside the couple of home runs Apatow hit a few years back as far as longevity or being remembered as a classic of film making goes. That's beside the point anyway. 30 Minutes or Less is a flash fire of diversion, a blurred race car that zips by you, almost shocks you into giving it attention. But for those few moments, you are absolutely entertained.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10