30 Minutes or Less Review

There's a growing trend in Hollywood, mostly at the hands of critics and viewers, to typecast anything that basically involves regular-looking dudes doing something out of character as a "stoner movie". And that usually leads to people brushing that movie off as nothing more than a movie for just that type of viewer.

Sometimes it's justified. But in many cases, it's a little unfair. In "30 Minutes or Less", it's the latter.

Sure, Jesse Eisenberg's character Nick smokes pot, and he's sort of neurotic. Sure, Danny McBride has made "those" types of movies in the past. But to throw 30 Minutes or Less under the proverbial bus and label it as a stoner flick doesn't do it justice. In fact, looking at this weekend's box office numbers, it clearly did it a disservice.

In fact, what 30 Minutes or Less really is, is a film about a guy who gets a bomb strapped to his chest, in order to be coerced into robbing a bank for a couple of lowlifes. The plot is actually original, and kind of genius. You gotta wonder whether someone's actually thought of doing this in real life. The plot presents itself in a straight forward way, to the point where it almost over-simplifies the script. Nick, a neurotic loser of a pizza delivery boy, gets the wrong assignment at the wrong time, and gets a bomb strapped to his chest. He then enlists the help of his estranged but only friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) to rob a bank in order to deliver $100,000 to his assailants. Naturally, things don't go exactly as planned, so Nick and Chet have to improvise using their knowledge of heist films in order to get the code for the bomb and get rid of the money.

But that's it. The script makes no true attempts to twist the story more than it needs to. Two guys are forced to rob a bank, and must deal with the consequences thereafter. And while it's refreshing to see a film that doesn't try (and fail) to give us twist after twist, it's also doesn't really help the film be as funny as it could be. The film does offer a bit of nuanced irony, in the fact that Nick barely ever delivers his pizzas on time, but now has to stage a bank robbery in 10 hours or else he will explode.

But that's not something that's really addressed in the film, so call it a missed opportunity, and that's kind of where the film fails to come truly together. It's full of plot holes and suffers from some lazy writing, but in all honesty, that's kind of the charm of the film, because it almost feels like screenwriter Michael Diliberti opens up those plot holes on purpose. After all, who cares about all the loose ends of a bank robbery? I'm not watching an episode of CSI here, so it really has no affect on my life that Chet and Nick basically steal a family's friend's car, leave their fingerprints all over the place, show their faces to police officers, and break many, many laws. That's not the point of the film, and delving into those aspects would just make the film a contrived mess. Call it escapism in its finest form, because you'll definitely have to leave your brain at the door for the plot to work.

Thankfully, the actors in the film make the absolute most of what they have, and the result is actually a quality comedy. Dwayne (Danny McBride), the main villain in the film, plays, as expected, Kenny Powers, but he's honed that character so much that it doesn't really matter. Danny McBride and Kenny Powers are pretty much one and the same. His sidekick, Travis (Nick Swardson) is basically like Stevie from Eastbound & Down but with an interest in weapons, bombs and flamethrowers. In fact, I kinda pictured Stevie the entire film, especially after I saw this trailer during the previews -- by the way, is it just me, or does that look like the biggest piece of shit ever?

Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari also play basically exactly who you'd expect them to play. Eisenberg is the neurotic loser who the movie tries but fails to make you like, but not to the point where it makes you dislike him. Finally, Aziz, is, well, Aziz. If you've seen any of his stand-up or any of his work, either in Parks & Recreation or on the big screen, you'll know exactly what to expect. He's the atypical Indian inexplicably living in small town Midwestern America. But in his case, it actually works, because everything that comes out of his mouth is gold. Aziz has this interesting way of enunciating his swears that actually makes them funnier -- his odd tone while yelling.

While you could definitely credit Aziz for most of the best lines in the film, Michael Pena is the real breakout star here. He only has a small role as Chongo, the Mexican assassin hired by Danny McBride to kill his dad, but everything that he says is hilariously racist. Seriously, this guy's in like five movies this year, check him out, because you're about to hear a lot more about him.

Director Ruben Fleischer doesn't really repeat the magic he found on screen with Eisenberg in "Zombieland" a couple of years ago, but he still does a good job with 30 Minutes or Less. It's a funny premise, it's a very strong cast and it has some great moments. And unlike what the critics seem to think, I didn't find that it forayed into the crude territory too much. There are a couple of VERY well placed "That's what she said" jokes, but it otherwise generally stays away from jokes of the penile variety. Seriously, if you find this movie to be "crude", then you clearly don't watch enough movies.

Is 30 Minutes or Less a classic comedy? Absolutely not. In fact, it fails to live up to its potential, considering it's fairly unique and kind of genius main plot. And it won't leave you in stitches in most instances, as you should expect from a comedy. But it's watchable and more than entertaining, even for a trip to the theater. You're likely to be smiling throughout it's surprising yet ironic short run time, and it uses its stars to their full potential in roles they're all comfortable with, and serves a vehicle to push a few of their careers in the right direction. Aziz Ansari isn't exactly an unknown, but roles like this are going to make him a big star. Danny McBride is likely very comfortable for where he is in his career, but something like this is definitely his forte, and as mentioned, Michael Pena truly breaks out in his role as Chongo.

Honestly, if you're on the fence about this one, you likely won't lose any sleep waiting for it to hit Netflix or premium cable. I was actually pretty excited for the film after the previews, and it sort of failed to deliver on that hype. But in this long month of August, filled with basically the leftovers of a stacked summer for comedies, it actually is a pretty attractive proposition. It may be a little derivative in its presentation, but a unique plot and a great cast make it worth a watch.

"30 Minutes or Less" receives a 6.5 out of 10 from Better With Popcorn.

Comments 2
Jonathan Szekeres's picture

very accurate review. Not a big fan of Eisenbergs casting here. I don't buy him as a stoner slacker pizza delivery boy, but maybe because the Social Network sort of cemented him as Mark Zuckerberg. Big props to Fred Ward for being in better shape than I'm in.

Also, get Michael Pena in more movies. Guy is a hero.

George Prax's picture

Have you seen any of Eisenberg's roles before the Social Network? He's pretty much typecast here lol. But I guess Zuckerberg is what people are going to remember him for now.