THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"30 MINUTES OR LESS"
Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari get ready for robbery.
I'm a sucker for movies with crazy What if? premises, and 30 Minutes or Less has a doozy: What if someone strapped a bomb to your chest and ordered you to rob a bank or be blown to smithereens? That's the dilemma faced by pizza delivery boy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) after he makes a drop-off out in the middle of nowhere and is greeted by two men in monkey masks. They are Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), a couple of losers who make the slacker Nick seem positively ambitious by comparison. Dwayne is the one who hatches the idea; he wants to raise $100,000 to hire a hitman (Michael Pena) to bump off his rich father (Fred Ward) but doesn't want to be tied to the robbery. He and Travis give Nick ten hours to rob the bank – someway, somehow – or they will push the button and obliterate him.
Nick's first instinct is to seek the help of Chet (Aziz Ansari), the best friend with whom he's just had an end-it-all fight. Chet agrees to help him rob the bank, and the duo almost seems to perversely enjoy the act of being badass. Nothing goes according to plan, needless to say, which leads to a series of complications Nick must overcome before his time runs out.
How much you like 30 Minutes or Less probably depends, to some degree, on how much you like the cast members. The film assembles a very unlikely team of actors, each with a distinct style of humor. Jesse Eisenberg's trademark neurosis plays off of Ansari's fast-talking, faux-hipster patter, while McBride does yet another variation on his angry vulgarian routine, and Swardson does his usual doofus schtick. You wouldn't think this combo would work, yet it kind of does, provided (as I said) you have some affection for the individuals. I'm a big fan of Eisenberg, McBride, and especially Ansari, and Swardson is far better here than he is in Adam Sandler vehicles. This oddball teaming of personalities gives the film an edgy energy that I really enjoyed.
The director is Ruben Fleischer, who made one of the more auspicious debuts of recent years with his hilarious Zombieland. While this movie isn't as good, it does further establish Fleischer as someone to watch. He inherently understands that this story requires brevity, and so he gives it a quick pace, cramming all the action into a brisk 84-minute running time. Often, I think short movies are lazy. After all, the shorter it runs, the less time there is to fully establish characters or completely develop nuances of the plot. 30 Minutes or Less is an exception to that rule. If it lasted for two hours, it would fall apart. The story is all about people who make snap decisions and have to react in knee-jerk ways. Keeping the film short actually feels appropriate in this instance.
The screenplay by Michael Dilberti finds some clever ways to crank up the comedic tension, getting all the characters in over their heads. That's fun to watch, and the actors bring such different sensibilities to the material that it's not always easy to predict where things will go next. Some darkness creeps in, too, as the film shows a willingness to venture into uncomfortable territory in spots.
In fairness, I think 30 Minutes or Less may appeal more to a niche audience than a mainstream one. Even Hollywood's raunchiest comedies often have a levity to them. This one has light moments, yet the very nature of its premise – not to mention its occasional button-pushing humor – makes it feel more like an indie comedy than a big studio production. An equal opportunity offender, 30 Minutes could well generate some controversy for a few of its jokes, which touch on rape, sexuality, and violence.
In the end, though, a comedy either makes you laugh or it doesn't. I laughed. The main quartet of actors sold the material to me, and the tight pacing kept me invested. No one is ever going to mistake this slight little comedy for greatness, but it possesses a go-for-broke attitude that's darkly fun.
( out of four)
30 Minutes or Less is rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.