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By Jim Rohner · August 15, 2011
Did you ever eat a meal that combined all your favorite ingredients and yet somehow didn't add up to be the party in your mouth that you anticipated? Maybe it's because the meal was undercooked, maybe one ingredient over powered the others, or maybe not enough prep time went into its completion. Who knows – the end result is a product that in which the final result is far less satisfying than the sum of its parts should be. That's 30 Minutes or Less. Consisting of separate elements that you'd think would form the megalopolis of summer comedies upon their combination, 30 Minutes or Less instead turns out to be a good, but far from great comedy. Where did it all go wrong?
Could it have been the lead actors? Fresh off his Oscar nomination for The Social Network, Jessie Eisenberg plays Nick, a clever but aimless 20-something whose lack of ambition sees him filling the role of the least reliable pizza boy this side of the dude who kept hastily running over the McCallister's statuette in Home Alone. Nick is sharp, vulgar, smitten with a girl and unconcerned about his directionless life and thanks to Eisenberg's performance, is un-intimidating and easily relatable with just a dash of guile. Nick is also the one that finds himself on the wrong end of a bomb strapped to his chest. More on that later.
Aziz Ansari, fresh off of being awesome, plays Nick's best friend, Chet, a substitute school teacher with slightly more ambition, but the same potty mouth. Nick's whatever attitude (combined, I suppose, with the revelation that Nick slept with Chet's sister, Kate) ultimately forces Chet to sever ties with his best friend until he also winds up on the wrong side of a bomb strapped to Nick's chest. As is the case with Ansari's comedy stylings, pretty much anything Chet says, including narrations of mundane activities, instantly becomes exponentially funnier. No, it couldn't be the lead actors.
Could it have been the supporting cast? Strapping the bomb to Nick's chest are mental midgets Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), who concoct the idea of a human bomb as a roundabout way to indirectly rob a bank in order to afford the murder of Dwayne's lottery-winning father, The Major (Fred Ward), at the hands of hired homeboy, Chango (Michael Pena). McBride, prone to portraying character's with Will Ferrell's ignorance mixed with his own signature brand of arrogance, tones down his signature "I'm the fuckin' shit" vibe significantly, resulting in the perfect mixture of pleasurable absurdity and necessary villainy.
Often though, McBride is upstaged by Swardson, whose Travis is quieter and sweeter, though equally idiotic if not a bit unbelievably naive. The interplay between these two comedians often steals thunder from the great rapport of Eisenberg and Ansari and even – despite logic's incessant nagging – turns the pair of criminals into not entirely dislikable characters. No, it couldn't be the supporting cast.
Could it have been the director? Director Ruben Fleischer forced the world to take notice with his feature film debut, Zombieland, a hilarious and touching story of love both platonic and romantic set against the backdrop of a world overtaken by zombies and celebrity cameos. Fleischer's direction is solid for the most part, never letting scenes or gags linger longer than they need to and with comedic talents like McBride and Ansari on board, that's saying something. There's also quite an awesome car chase. No, it couldn't be the director.
Could it have been the screenplay? Michael Diliberti (written by) and Matthew Sullivan (story by alongside Diliberti) are known for…. well, nothing, I guess. The produced feature film rookies have written a comedy not even 90 minutes long that, considering how it splits time between two pairs of friends, dedicates the bare minimum amount of time to both that never aspires to be more than it is. That's not to say 30 Minutes or Less has to be Funny People, but a film about a guy forced to rob a bank with a bomb strapped to his chest, surprisingly little of the runtime is actually dedicated to the caper. The idea of two law abiding 20-somethings suddenly thrust into the position of bank robbers is rife for awkward posturing and gags, but when it comes time to the heist, it's in, out, then done. Not enough time is spent on the concept of ordinary guys thrust into an extraordinary situation, and there's a lot of comedic potential lost because of that.
What we're given instead is a lot of admittedly humorous bantering and bickering that unfortunately just doesn't fill in the gaps where narrative urgency needed to be. Yes, it's sweet that Nick takes the time to profess his feelings to Kate when he realizes this could be his last 10 hours on earth, but when it comes time to quitting his shitty job, all he can muster is a quick, "fuck you" to his boss after all the complaining he's done about his job? Where's the payoff in that? And while a lot of people have criticized last month's Horrible Bosses for being a fun, but ultimately forgettable comedy without much staying power, I would nominate 30 Minutes or Less as the comedy with the least memorable gags.
None of this translates to 30 Minutes or Less being a bad film, but ultimately, it's no more than a film that gets in, makes you chuckle, then gets out. That alone is sufficient for some, but disappointing for those who assumed Fleischer's sophomore effort would be a step up.