by HELEN GEIB
The custom in my movie group, when we go out for coffee or a meal after a movie, is to go around the table and have everyone say one thing they liked and one thing they didn’t like about it. The reaction to 30 Minutes or Less was pretty uniform. Some were a little more forgiving than others, but overall we called out the same points.
What we liked:
The cast. Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery guy named Nick and Aziz Ansari plays Nick’s higher-achieving but kind of a jerk BFF since childhood Chet. (Nick is in love with Chet’s sister Kate, a throwaway part played by the remarkably beautiful Dilshad Vadsaria.) Danny McBride and Nick Swardson play somewhat older, somewhat stupider, somewhat more amoral BFFs since childhood Dwayne and Travis. Dwayne needs money to hire a hitman (played by Michael Pena) to kill his rich and understandably exasperated dad (played by Fred Ward) so the pair strap a bomb to Nick’s chest and tell him to rob a bank in the next nine hours or else.
We all thought this was a workable premise for an action comedy. Twentysomething slacker buddies who have just had a huge fight and then have to work together to rob a bank under penalty of one of them being blown up is a scenario with comic potential, and the characters’ sustained freak-outs play to Eisenberg and Ansari’s strengths as comic actors. We also liked the compare and contrast story approach, with the film switching back and forth between the misadventures of the two pairs of friends.
However, it was the cast that was far and away the best thing about the movie. There were quite a few times when the actors made us laugh.
What we didn’t like:
I’m sure if they ever read this review, screenwriter Michael Diliberti (in his writing debut) and director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) would be happy to learn that it’s still possible to offend the mainstream movie audience. The dialogue is a steady stream of crude sexual references punctuated by profanity. Several of us retain the capacity to be offended.
We all agreed it was a bore. They’re kidding themselves if they still think this kind of language in a Hollywood comedy is shocking or transgressive. It’s predictable and formulaic, a tired crutch for filmmakers who are too lazy, too uninspired, or plain too uncaring to build laughs from character development, story development, or visual inventiveness.
While we’ve become accustomed to Hollywood not caring anymore about telling good stories that make sense, that doesn’t mean we like it. For example, the title is a reference to Nick’s “30 minutes or its free” pizza delivery job. The movie opens with an extended driving sequence showing Nick breaking traffic laws left and right and generally driving like a menace to society to beat the 30 minute clock. The title, that character introduction, and the “nine hours ’til it explodes” plot all raised the legitimate expectation that Nick’s driving skills and knowledge of the local streets would figure in some meaningful way in the comedy, the action, or ideally, both. They don’t.
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