'30 Minutes or Less' (R)
Lightning-paced comedy earns its laughs via characters and a clever plot.
In 30 Minutes or Less, a pizza delivery guy named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is kidnapped by two bumbling schemers (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), has a bomb vest attached to his chest and is ordered to come up with $100,000 or else ka-boom. Desperate for help, the slacker Nick turns to his only friend in the world, elementary school teacher Chet (Aziz Ansari), and asks him for help. The only possible solution: Rob a bank.
Written by Michael Diliberti and directed by Ruben Fleischer with the same energy and irreverence he used in his first film, Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less has a breakneck pace and a flair for the ridiculous. Although the film was vaguely inspired by the true story of Brian Wells, a Pennsylvania pizza delivery man who was strapped with a bomb that ultimately killed him, the movie doesn’t contain a single scene that isn’t comedic in tone.
Fleischer is the kind of director who can treat his characters straight while putting them into the most ridiculous of circumstances, so the picture has the tone and feel of a thriller, even though you’re constantly laughing. A lot of the dialogue sounds improvised (“If loving money is gay, I’m Elton John”), and Eisenberg and Ansari add a layer of brittleness to their performance that distinguishes them from your garden-variety buddy-couple — especially since Chet is constantly trying to keep his distance from Nick, just in case the bomb should malfunction and go off.
30 Minutes or Less also delivers the requisite elements of the genre, including a clever car chase that features a startling crash and a couple of unusual shoot-outs, one involving a pen-gun, the other a flamethrower.
McBride, playing another of his obnoxious know-it-all jackasses, and Swardson, as his smarter-than-he-seems cohort, are immensely likable for their utter stupidity, and even minor characters like Michael Pena’s professional hitman get their moment to shine.
In the span of two films, Fleischer has demonstrated a talent for keeping a large cast spinning while giving each character their due, and he knows how to venture into absurd territory while maintaining a veneer of credibility (when Nick and Chet go to the store to buy ski masks and toy guns, the cashier asks them if they’d like anything else to go with their “rape kit”).
30 Minutes or Less is slight and not exactly memorable, but it moves quickly and has some surprising twists and top-notch performances all around. Not bad for a disposable late-summer comedy.
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Pena, Bianca Kajlich, Fred Ward.
Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenwriter: Michael Diliberti.
Producers: Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller, Jeremy Kramer.
A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 82 minutes. Vulgar language, brief violence, nudity, adult themes. Opens Friday Aug. 12 at area theaters.