In 30 Minutes or Less, each of the main actors capitalize on former on-screen personas to coast through a version of a real-life horror story repackaged into a Hollywood comedy. This is nowhere near the worst film of the year, but it’s also nothing to write home about and, at best, it’s maybe worth a viewing on home video.
Ruben Fleischer’s second feature takes a similar approach to genre considerations as his debut film Zombieland did: 30 Minutes or Less operates in a world in which movies exist, and his characters use popular culture to influence their actions. When two jackasses (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) strap a bomb to pizza delivery guy Nick’s (Jesse Eisenberg) chest to coerce him to rob a bank, Nick sits on a toilet while researching ways to diffuse it, calling to mind a similar scene in Lethal Weapon 2. Later, Nick says he doesn’t know how to rob the bank, but his best friend, an elementary school teacher named Chet (Aziz Ansari), points out that Point Break is a perfect instruction manual of how to pull off the job. An action-filled car chase plays over Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On,” a song that perfectly encapsulates 80s cop comedies, first appearing in Beverly Hills Cop.
The film succeeds in these moments, but unfortunately can’t sustain that success for the rest of the movie. When it’s not overtly referencing other movies, the movie aimlessly wanders between recycled plot points (best friends fight, make up, band together to accomplish their mission; stupid guy wants to kill rich dad, hires assassin, there’s a mix-up) that aren’t enough to make us truly care what happens to any of the characters. A half-assed love story between Nick and Chet’s sister Kate is a pitiful attempt to make the protagonist sympathetic, but it’s a failure on every level. There isn’t much acting going on here: these guys are basically playing versions of themselves that we’ve seen before in other media, and it really feels like everyone involved (including Fleischer behind the camera) was mailing this one in.
I’m not looking for one hundred percent realism when it comes to mainstream Hollywood comedies, but when Aziz plays a school teacher who bails on his kids in the middle of the day to follow Eisenberg around, I feel like it’s not too much to wonder what happens to those kids sitting there without a teacher for the rest of the day. Same thing with the money stolen from the bank – aren’t the cops going to come looking for it? The film ends – SPOILERS AHEAD – with the main trio of Jesse, Aziz, and Sister driving away into the night, talking about how much awesome stuff they’re going to buy with this money they stole. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that easy to rob a bank and get away with it. The lack of difficulty in accomplishing their goals seems to run parallel to the laziness of this script as a whole. It’s flat, has no natural momentum, and even though there’s a literal ticking clock and the stakes and suspense should be ramped up, these guys take so many random side trips that nothing seems to matter at all by the finale.
At the end of the day, we can only watch Danny McBride do his Kenny Powers schtick for so long. It’s funny for a minute or two, and then it just gets tiring. I’m not placing the blame entirely on McBride here, since he’s one of many who are just breezing along here with no real heart or emotional investment, but he’s an easy target because, more than anyone else in this film, he just does the same thing in nearly every movie he’s in these days. It’s a problem found in a lot of actors these days, and on one hand you can’t fault them; these guys are just trying to cash in while they can because no one can predict when the tides of mainstream taste will change and leave them high and dry. But just because they are mailing it in, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 30 Minutes or Less? Return to sender. Until next time…