I had a lot of hope for 30 Minutes or Less given the talent and petigree involved. Unfortunately that hope was misplaced as the film failed to deliver on that promise. What a shame.
Directed by Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer 30 Minutes or Less tells a story seemingly ripped from the headlines (something very similar actually happened and it didn’t turn out much funnier than this movie) of a pizza delivery guy, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) who is kidnapped and forced to wear a bomb vest and rob a bank for two wannabe criminals Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) so they can pay off a hitman (Michael Pena) to kill Dwayne’s Dad (Fred Ward). Nick seeks the help of his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) and the two try to figure out how to pull the whole thing off. Obviously, nothing goes according to plan and hijinks ensues.
There isn’t a lot of in-depth analysis needed to show where the movie went wrong: It just wasn’t very funny. I sat through the whole thing without a single deep laugh. I chuckled occasionally and there was a smile here or there but by and large there just weren’t any big laughs to be had and the whole thing felt kind of by the numbers and lethargic.
For a comedy to not be very funny is obviously a problem but for this comedy with the assembled talent to not be funny it is a complete disaster. Swardson and McBride together should have had me pissing myself but instead I spent most of the time wondering what in the hell happened. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of delivery of otherwise funny lines was bungled and again I just don’t understand. McBride is the king of the so-called mumblecore comedy and for his delivery and timing to be off this badly is as amazing as it is disheartening. The same goes for Swardson who is generally funny in everything regardless of whether or not the rest of the material works. The two just can’t get it going here and I am not sure if it was an effort on their part to tone it down for the particular parts or if it was direction given but time and again their material and delivery doesn’t work.
This is likewise true of Ansari who is generally very funny as well. His chemistry with Eisenberg is a bit off as well as it never really feels like they would be friends. Sure their relationship is strained in the film but I had a hard time picturing these guys hanging out together in even the best of times.
It is kind of difficult not to blame this whole thing on Fleischer when proven talents are off by this much. The overall tone feels off as well as it can’t seem to decide if it wants to do hardcore crime or dick and fart jokes. The two aren’t mutually exclusive by any means but here they don’t mesh very well. The movie might have been better off trying for a hardcore crime with some elements of comedy than to try to do the broad comedy with hardcore crime elements. The film just never really settles into a comfortable balance and it is difficult to connect with.
In Zombieland Fleischer proved he could stage and shoot impressive action scenes but here he looks like a first time director trying to sort out fairly standard set ups and CGI. The limited special effects used here looked pretty shitty and left me scratching my head about how they made it to the finished film.
There are some good things, some good performances. Eisenberg acquits himself well enough and he is convincingly freaked out enough without coming off cartoony. Likewise Michael Pena and Fred Ward are great as hit man and victim. This group of performances were so well done and so tonally different than the others I wonder if they were told this was a comedy at all. This could be the issue though. It could be that the director reeled in the comedians to try to match the straight men and we are left with lukewarm improvisation and poor deliver. I don’t really know, that is pure conjecture on my part. I just don’t understand how these people gave these performances and botched them so badly.
Conclusion [4.0 out of 10]
I really did not respond to this movie at all. I have talked to some people who did but I fail to see what they did. The tone is wrong, the action and effects are sloppy and the performances by key personnel are completely off. I really don’t understand what happened here. On paper it should be a great comedy. In practice it is an unfunny mess that fails to deliver on a bank vault full of promise.