30 Minutes or Less: Film Review
Jesse Eisenberg stars as a pizza delivery guy caught up in a heist in Ruben Fleischer's "Zombieland" follow-up.
This has not been a good summer for the R-rated comedy, which takes another hit with 30 Minutes or Less. So far the box office has not reflected the increasingly lower standards and lukewarm to poor reviews garnered by these films. But if the 3D phenomenon is any guide, where expectations have repeatedly be dashed, to continually subject even a pretty undemanding public to lame, witless comedies sprinkled with four-letter words and mildly suggestive sexuality may turn R into a red flag for rubbish.
Among other sad aspects to this particular movie is the depressing sight of otherwise good actors trapped in such sheer badness and the small wonder that this would be the next project Jesse Eisenberg would choose following his well-deserved best actor Oscar nomination for The Social Network. Perhaps he did this as a favor for his Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer but that’s a hard way to pay off a debt.
Michael Diliberti’s screenplay (based on a story by him and Matthew Sullivan) revolves around the false premise that if one team of bumbling idiots is hilarious, as in Dumb and Dumber, then you double the fun with two teams. Not only does the math not work, it actually works to increase the tedium since you get no relief by switching from one lethally stupid pair to another. It’s just more of the same.
Pair No. 1 is Eisenberg’s pizza delivery boy Nick -- he must deliver in 30 minutes or less -- who is no boy but rather a slacker so typical to such comedies, and Aziz Ansari’s Chet, a reformed slacker now grade school teacher who is nonetheless hapless. The other guys are criminal conspirators -- or would like to think they are instead of the lowlife do-nothings and think-even-less they in fact are, Danny McBride’s Dwayne and Nick Swardson’s Travis.
The plot sounds like something dreamed up while smoking dope: Dwayne and Travis, who would have to get exceedingly ambitious to be called slackers, mean to get their hands on the lottery winnings of Dwayne’s ex-military dad (Fred Ward) in order to open a brothel masquerading as a tanning salon. So they want to hire a hit man only they have no money so they decide to rob a bank for the money but would rather someone else do the job so they kidnap Nick and strap a time bomb to his body so that he’ll do. Are you laughing uncontrollably yet?
Nick naturally enlists Chet to help him. They try to figure out a way out of Nick’s predicament but can’t so they decide they’d better rob a bank. They buy a lot of convenience store paraphernalia and then decide they’d better steal a get-away car, which they don’t know how to do but the script insists they bumble successfully through every crime including the pathetic bank robbery.
Things get more complicated -- but no funnier -- when the hit man (Michael Peña), his stripper lover (Bianc Kajlich), Chet’s sister (Dilshad Vadsaria) and Dwayne’s dad all take turns in gumming up the works. The ending is surprisingly dark given that nothing in the Three Stooges tone Fleischer has established prepares you for this.
It’s a minor flaw though in a film whose major flaw is extreme dullness. When a script is this bare-bones bad, actors overcompensate by increasing their antics with each scene and trying too hard to find laughs where none exists. Eisenberg does barely maintain his dignity while Ansari gets more wide-eyed and frantic by the minute. Meanwhile McBride and Swardson hit the same notes tirelessly.
Peña, Kajlich and Ward all suggest characters that might be interesting in a well-written dark comedy but here go to waste.
Fleischer stages one chase scene with a bit of comic flair but otherwise never locates that mix of macabre action and comedy that at least made Zombieland amusing. The film takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is made to look as grim and depressing as the movie itself.
Opens: August 12 (Columbia Pictures)
Production companies: Columbia Pictures in association with Media Rights Capital presents a Red Hour production
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña, Bianc Kajlich, Dilshad Vadsaria, Fred Ward
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Screenwriter: Michael Diliberti
Story by: Michael Diliberti, Matthew Sullivan
Producers: Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller, Jeremy Kramer
Executive producers: Monica Levinson, Brian Levy
Director of photography: Jess Hall
Production designer: Maher Ahmad
Music: Ludwig Göransson
Costume designer: Christie Wittenborn
Editor: Alan Baumgarten
R rating, 83 minutes