Actor Jesse Eisenberg returns from the sophisticated cinematic stratosphere of The Social Network to the sandbox of sophomoric silliness in this comfortably dumb buddy comedy.
Eisenberg is Nick, a pizza delivery driver whose beat-up car leaps onscreen in a red-light-running, approaching-train-ignoring race to reach its destination in the 30 minutes or less promised by his employer. One of his customers is Dwayne (Danny McBride), the homicidally resentful son of a lottery-winning Marine Corps major (Fred Ward). Dwayne and his idiot sidekick Travis (Nick Swardson) subdue Nick, lock him in a remote-trigger explosive vest and tell him he has 10 hours to return with $100,000. That’s how much Dwayne needs to pay a”Satanic Hispanic” hitman (Michael Pena) he has hired to bump off Dwayne’s dad.
Nick enlists his roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari) to help him come up with a plan of action. They’ve had a falling out over Nick’s announcement that he deflowered Chet’s twin sister the night they graduated high school, and the revelation that Chet’s inability to keep a secret resulted in Nick’s parents getting a divorce. The present life-threatening situation trumps those concerns, and before long Nick and Chet are doing their best to rob a bank.
Promoted as being “From the Director of Zombieland” (Ruben Fleischer), the movie actually has none of Zombieland‘s showy, text-enhanced, David-Fincher-lite style. The humor in both is a mix of everyday snark (Nick takes financial advantage of two gullible teens) and dark (when Nick and Chet buy ski masks and toy guns, the seen-it-all cashier refers to the items as a “rape kit”). But the straightforward 30 Minutes or Less doesn’t have anything close to the earlier movie’s ambition or its ability to surprise. (Don’t expect the kind of narrative left turn that could lead to a Bill Murray cameo, in other words.)
This doesn’t mean the movie is without its pleasures. As Nick, Eisenberg gives what could have been a standard slacker smartass an edge of bitter self-awareness that’s different enough to be refreshing. McBride’s thuggish Dwayne is more downright-mean nasty than humorously nasty, even if his stupidity takes the edge off his evil. And this is one of the few movies in which the protagonist’s high-speed Tokyo-drift driving skills during a car chase make perfect sense, considering Nick’s occupation.
There’s also a great Eisenberg in-joke, when Nick is asked if he has seen a friend’s Facebook status. “You know I don’t check that sh*t,” says the former big-screen Mark Zuckerberg. “I’m off the grid.”
But a lot of the movie’s misogyny and profuse profanity feel gratuitous, as if the producers wanted to make damn sure they had enough R-rated material for a red-band trailer. The cheap-looking production also has a rundown, lowered-expectations ambience that’s vaguely New Depression depressing. Nick may be slacker enough to eat Lunchables for dinner, but he’s also smart enough to know his life should be better. Welcome to 2011 America, comedy lovers!
If you can overlook the explicit-language overkill and free-floating hopelessness, there are worse ways to spend an evening than seeing a movie that includes lines like “you just brought a gun to a bomb fight.” And at only 83 minutes, 30 Minutes or Less is short enough that you probably can see it between shifts at your two jobs.