Title: 30 Minutes or Less
Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Peña, Bianca Kajlich, Fred Ward
Why do pizza places offer the “30 minutes or free” deal? I’d like to bet most aren’t doing it to be nice. If your product is so-so, you’ve got to offer other incentives to beat out the competition. Well, 30 Minutes or Less falls into that realm. At a light 83 minutes, it doesn’t ask too much of you, making you far more accepting of the final product. No, not a compliment, but, admit it; you totally opt for the quick, easy and cheap pizza most of the time, right?
Nick and Chet (Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari) are best buddies and roommates. They’ve got their differences – Chet’s got a more promising career, Nick’s got a thing for Chet’s sister, Chet told a secret that ruined Nick’s parents’ marriage – but none of that matters today because today is the day that Nick gets a bomb strapped to his chest and they’re forced to put their differences aside so he doesn’t end up a big, fiery pile of mush.
The guys responsible for Nick’s situation are Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). Dwayne’s got a problem with his pop, a millionaire courtesy of the lottery, who gives Dwayne a tough time about his lack of brains and ambition. One day, his dad goes too far and Dwayne hatches a plan to hire a hitman, kill his father and then inherit the money for himself. Problem is, he needs money to pay a hitman. That’s where Nick comes in. Dwayne and Travis pose as dudes hungry for a pizza and when Nick comes to deliver the goods, they ambush him, strap the firepower to him and demand he robs a bank for them or they’ll blow him up.
As crazy as this story may be, 30 Minutes or Less actually benefits by staying in the lines. There are just enough good jokes to make the thing funny, there’s just enough action to amp the energy and there’s just enough heart to make it endearing. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with some innocent mediocrity.
The piece takes care of some character development early on, introducing Nick by spending some time with him on the job and then throwing Chet into the equation at home. It’s brief, but more than enough as these are two pretty simple guys we’re working with. Still, Eisenberg and Ansari manage to use their precise comedic timing and chemistry to bring the boys to life in a wholly entertaining fashion. Solo, they don’t find as much success, but they’re riffing off each other nearly the entire film, so private moments hold no bearing.
Dwayne and Travis, on the other hand, have some layers, but only one manages to highlight more than one. In terms of character development, Travis is really the only person in this film to experience an emotional arc. He starts the film one way, offers some compelling twists and turns throughout and winds up having learned something from the situation. Dwayne, however, is just a flat out jerk. He earns some sympathy through the predicament with his father, but once he sets his scheme in motion, he’s no longer that bumbling idiot you feel sorry for; he’s a mean-spirited bumbling idiot.
Regardless, 30 Minutes or Less moves at such a swift pace, most story flaws fly by so fast, you won’t even notice. The one plot point that’s brought up, never fully fleshed out and then hard to forget is Dwayne’s hope to open a tanning salon. It never quite makes sense how that idea fits into the bomb/bank robbery/kill dad plan. Even if Dwayne just hoped to open the business with the bucks he takes from daddy’s bank account, that wouldn’t make much sense as that account holds millions and, odds are, if a guy like Dwayne got his hands on millions, he’d waste it away on absolute nonsense rather than an investment opportunity.
Overall, the camerawork is fairly simple and never intrusive, the film is devoid of distracting gross-out humor and, minus Dwayne’s tanning dreams, there are no loose ends. It’s so straightforward, short and harmless, it holds your attention and keeps a smile on your face with ease. The actors don’t come anywhere close to delivering knockout performances, but everyone is so well cast within their ranges, everything falls in place quite naturally. The only two truly commendable elements of this film are the dialogue and editing. Sure, some of the gags are silly, but there’s also some really smart comedy here. Set those quick-witted jokes to some snappy editing, and you wind up with a short, sweet and highly enjoyable escape.