|30 minutes or less|
"Sometimes fate pulls out its big ol' cock and slaps you right in the face."
Sometimes, I think it’s a fun practice to clash tone and genre with films. As humorous as it may be, it also is a successful effect when actually utilized in movies. Be it for emotional or comedic result, this ironic contrast can ultimately make for some creative story-telling. But let it be sure that in the end, knowing one’s role in definitive attitude for a story is of utmost importance. Combining all parcels of excellent filmmaking to create one, big, pretty picture of consistent voice is the desired outcome, unless working experimentally, which is not a think to look down upon. In this sense, 30 Minutes or Less feels like a fairly dark comedy with strong thriller tropes intertwined, but in execution, it is confused and goes against partial expectations in an often unsatisfactory way. This story feels told in a wrong fashion, but serviceable for what it ends up being. Occasionally successful in being humorous and exciting or clever to fractions of moments, this film has it’s appealing comedy cast, fantastic script, and strong comedy director to thank. Unfortunately, it seems as if each element is going for something different, in the long run, leading to a not so strong film, despite it being a working one. While I feel that 30 Minutes or Less is one big missed opportunity, I’d say that one won’t be too disappointed going into it, so long as they don’t expect a masterpiece, or something entirely memorable. Like a one-night-stand, with not the best-looking girl of the roster- nonetheless, it’s sex, right? Right.
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is not a happy person. He has a shitty job as a pizza-delivery boy for a company that guarantees delivery within 30 minutes or less, or the pizza is free. A majority of the time, his clients live out of town. His close lady friend and quiet love interest has decided to move away, in what he considers a reckless move, and immediately following that, Nick gets in a fight with Chet (Aziz Ansari), his roommate, best friend, and lady friend's twin brother. Their falling out ends poorly, leaving Nick alone. Across town, best friends Dwayne and Travis are hanging out in a junk yard, blowing up water-melons, because they can. They can also watch 3D movies in Dwayne's dad's home, because Dwayne's dad won the lottery, and now resides in a mansion, with Dwayne working as his butler of sorts. Considering his dad as a true asshole, he tries to scheme of ways to get rid of the old man, leading to the notion of straight-up murdering him! Which would obviously lead to inheritance money. But of course, he can't do it on his own, so Travis thinks of the genius idea of hiring somebody to do it. After making a deal with a stripper, Dwayne now has a contact who will do the murder, for the price of... Money, just imagine a big bag of money. How will they get the money? They make some schmo rob a bank for them, of course. Then, after a fateful glance toward the TV, they see a commercial for the pizza place Nick works for. They order, Nick delivers, and is knocked out. He wakes up the next morning with a bomb strapped to his chest, and the task of robbing a bank. If he does not participate, he will blow the F up. So he enlists his friend to help, despite their newly found hatred for each other. Thus leading us on a fairly fast adventure populated with clueless loose ends and awkwardly executed criminal acts.
I’m going to get this out of the right here, for those who don’t want to sift through my personal qualms with the movie, and want to get straight into definitive criticism and determination of quality. 30 Minutes or Less is a comedy that manages to be funny. It’s a comedy with some great gags here and there, with some once in a while great moments, especially in reference to pop-culture or irreverent dialogue. The four main actors involved, including one supporting member, are functional, for the most part. Michael Peña totally takes his role to frightening and hilariously over-the-top places. He embodies his character to a T, and is admirable for that quality, be it here, or in much more serious performances. Granted, this is his third role or so wherein he sports that goofy latino lisp, but dammit, he’s great as sporting it, and this is just another shining example. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are formidable buddies of the vicious kind, being absolutely insane and dumb in their nature, but humbly so. Given two idiotic but aspiring characters, the two actors generally have fun with it, but a lot of the time, tend to stick to the script.
This isn’t as much of a downfall as it is for the more central roles given to Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari. Ansari and Eisenberg are loveable and respectable, respectively as actors. I think that Eisenberg has a great future as an actor, and Ansari as a comedian/writer. In pushing forward their characters, their relationship, and story, they do fine. Eisenberg isn’t much of the asshole type, which his character is, and he tends to speak and spout his dialogue quickly, and Ansari can really oversell his words. These negative quirks lead to partially unnatural performances, mainly in more significant moments. They manage to share some sense of chumminess, but they’re still terribly out of step, and in too many times than desired, out of place and rhythm. Pace- damn, that would’ve been a good rhyme, AND alliteration.
Why the two leads, as talented as they are, fell off-balance is in how they tackle the script by Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan. By itself, the script is actually quite fantastic. Very smart writing, for all kinds of facets, ultimately black, collaborating with twisty plot and set-pieces. The humor is strong and absurd, as are the characters and plot developments. It’s actually clever for a lot of what it does, especially in the more action-oriented moments. Some of the bigger set-pieces, like actually robbing the bank, and the set-up before so are very well planned out, and are absolutely hilarious. I’m sure Diliberti and Sullivan have a great future as screenwriters ahead of them, much like one Michael Baccall, and I hope to see where fate takes them, which is sure-fire to be good.
Where things go wrong requires a bit of a sensitive ear. In listening to the dialogue, banter, and bandy shared amongst characters, mainly all of it seems appropriate for a much more… let’s say straighter approach. This kind of writing is found delivered in much less audacious approaches, thus amplifying the absurdity of it all. Subtraction of music, letting straight-faced acting and observant visuals taking the reins are only a few of the stronger qualities of this kind of filmmaking. I already made the comparison to the Coen Brothers, and I will, as a lot of the time, their humor goes understated, in a very hear it or miss it way. Guys like Jody Hill, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, and Paul Thomas Anderson treat their comedy in this sense, not really waiting for a punch-line. Hell, in reference to Jody Hill, his frequent collaborator is known for mixing his bombastic characteristics with idiotic but quick speech. Here, instead of getting that more subtle and serious approach, and though SOME of the great writing actually gets to come through for the laughs, we’re presented with somewhat of a goofier treatment, which is part fine, but wholly a detractor of quality.
Who might you say is the main offender here? I’m sad to inform that it is our director, Zombieland helmer Rueben Fleischer, who takes on a sophomoric job here with 30 Minutes. Though many and all would look at Zombieland in an entirely bright light, I find a tinge of fault in it, mainly with inconsistent tone. Sometimes dark, sometimes light-hearted and cartoony, it felt jarring for me personally. While it was a problem I sought on my own, it felt like it made sense and was appropriate, but it truly bites him in the ass here. As opposed to the aforementioned darker spin I would’ve preferred to see with this story, our director goes for the blatant- the more comedic. With his two leads, in fact all four, Fleischer sticks too close to the script, considering what he’s going for. The men under his direction here are mainly great actors and genius improv comedians. Though a few of the stronger ones can still come off natural, they’re all still tied to a script that doesn’t necessarily cater to Fleischer’s God-hand. Making these guys stay tight to the script only makes their performances decline in quality. While Swardson and McBride pull off their characters quite well, they still seem confined, and the Eisenberg/Ansari pairing ends up sounding like 8 graders reluctantly reading literature in an early morning English class. I can’t entirely blame the actors, but I also can’t entirely blame Fleischer either, and yet it is his handle on the tale that leads to this kind of result.
Like so, the film often feels awkward and can’t really pull off all of its attempts at laughs. Even the more intense moments, and even the developmental, partially emotional ones are undercut by a tragic lack of intensity. The acting does play into this, but it’s also how Fleischer uses music and captures certain scenes. Sometimes he plays with style, which he has proven to be fantastic with, but here, he doesn’t push it to exciting lengths, and at other times, he doesn’t stretch it enough. What’s missing, I would say, is proper atmosphere. The characters and situation that fill the film are very dirty, and clash against things like a nice mansion and a humble, small town. This deserves to be stylish, but in a grittier way. I feel lame about saying that, but it’s true- it would add to the intensity and probably add to the possible humor with. It’s an indie concept treated in a polished manner. The simple cutting and coverage tends to take away a lot of the steam a scene that intended on being intense has in concept. There’s a moment early on where Eisenberg and Ansari are arguing and trading verbal blows- how each ruined the others’ respective lives in some way. With this kind of cast, you’ll need a looser method in exposition delivery and character handling to pull this scene off. Here, words don’t match with stylings, and we’re subjected to overacting and an argument that comes off as petty and ingenuine, much like a lot of the movie.
I can talk circles around this film and how much it drops the ball, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that if you shut off the mind for 80 minutes or so, it’s actually an okay time. As far from perfect as it can be, this film doesn’t really know what it wants to be, and when it thinks it does, it’s still comes up short. Weak, overall, in it’s short run time, this movie has issues, and clearly fixable ones, which just adds to the shame of it all. I mean, I love all the people involved here, but the work they’re subjected to isn’t of high caliber, by anyone’s standards, really, maybe except for people who enjoy a truly simple time. In the end, I can’t call this film all-around bad, even with all my issues with it. 30 Minutes or Less is a fully-functioning comedy, and though it missteps on what its given and what it goes for, it still provides enough laughs and insanity to make for a fairly okay time, thanks to its strong actors, though misled ones, and strong script, though a misused one. I hope Rueben Fleischer can make a good go with a much more suitable tale to his likings in the future, especially with Gangster Squad down the pipe (I’d like to see what he can do out of comedy), but this movie certainly is not his magnum opus.
30 Minutes or Less gets 3 mix-tapes of Third Eye Blind out of 5.
Trailer 2: 30 Minutes Or Less
Believe it or not, this is actually inspired by a true story. It ended poorly.
30 Minutes or Less Trailer
Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari are roped into committing a bank robbery in this new comedy from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer.
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