In 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells held up an Erie, Pa. bank with a homemade bomb strapped around his neck. Claiming to have been forced into committing the robbery by hooligans holding a remote detonator, Wells exploded in front of news crews three minutes before the bomb squad arrived.
So naturally, some Hollywood asshole had the bright idea that this would make a great throwback buddy comedy.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as a self-styled rebel and slacker who devotes his days to drinking beer, delivering pizzas and incessantly re-renting Lethal Weapon sequels from Blockbuster. But then a not-so funny thing happens: He’s kidnapped by a couple of yokels in monkey masks (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), and ends up with a bomb strapped to his chest and instructions to rob the local bank or these two apes are going to detonate the charge.
I’m usually a sucker for McBride’s self-aggrandizing redneck routine, but 30 Minutes Or Less devotes entirely too much screen time to his braggadocio, spinning his wheels in a lot of undirected improv for seemingly no reason other than the movie’s need to crawl to the finish line at 83 minutes.
Nick enlists his wide-eyed substitute teacher roommate (Aziz Ansari) to help him with the robbery, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few mildly amusing moments along the way. Director Ruben Fleischer helmed the similarly slender time killer Zombieland a couple of years back, and he doesn’t have a bad eye for kinetic car chases. (Scoring the heist’s aftermath with Don Henley’s “The Heat is On” is just one of many homages to violent, potty-mouthed comedies of the Reagan era.)
In his first lead movie role, Ansari seems to be in over his head a bit. He succumbs to what I like to call “Jerry Seinfeld acting,” where a comedian stands with his feet planted and arms locked firmly at his sides, shouting punchlines with little inflection. But bless his heart, Eisenberg goes all out and delivers an actual performance here. Sweaty, desperate and playing every moment as if he’s still up for an Oscar, he’s rather endearing.
More often than not, this feels like one of those half-assed flicks you discover on late-night cable and don’t bother surfing away from because it’s amusing enough when you’re stoned. I guess 30 Minutes Or Less goes down easy enough, however bland and familiar—kind of like cheap pizza. Remember to tip your driver.
Read our interview with Jesse Eisenberg and Nick Swardson here.