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30 Minutes or Less (2011)
Movie Reviews

30 Minutes or Less (2011)

Never gives a clear indication of what the film is supposed to be; a disjointed, bipolar tone suggest the filmmakers were having the same lingering doubts all throughout the shoot.

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There are some movies I truly have no idea how to feel about, and 30 Minutes or Less is now on that list. It represents either bravery or stupidity on the part of director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter Michael Diliberti – and as with most extremes, they’re separated by a very fine line. The latter claimed to be only “vaguely aware of” the story’s similarities to the real life case of Brian Douglas Wells, an Erie, Pennsylvania pizza delivery man who died in 2003 as the result of a bomb attached to his neck. I don’t know how seriously to take Diliberti’s claim. What I do know is that there’s not much good humor to be found in that particular scenario. Despite this, the film has been injected with a healthy dose of comedy, including pot jokes and a lot of filthy words derived from the act of fornication.

Taking place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the catalyst of the plot is a slacker named Dwayne (Danny McBride), who lives with his mean, tyrannical military father, known only as The Major (Fred Ward). Some years back, he won $10 million in the state lottery, and although it has since dwindled away to about $1 or $2 million, Dwayne still schemes to kill his father and inherit the money. But rather than do the deed on his own, he hires a hitman named Chongo (Michael Peña) to do it for him. Chongo’s fee is $100,000, a sum Dwayne doesn’t have access to. The obvious solution is to rob a bank. But again, he decides to have someone else do the dirty work. Here enters an apathetic, borderline antisocial pizza delivery man named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg); Dwayne and his accomplice, Travis (Nick Swardson), kidnap him and strap a time-bomb to his chest. If he doesn’t rob a bank and deliver the money in nine hours time, Dwayne will detonate the bomb via his cell phone.

Desperate for help, Nick turns to his former best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), an elementary school teacher. Although they have a lot of issues with each other – Chet inadvertently broke up Nick’s parents, and Nick has been secretly in a relationship with Chet’s sister, Katie (Dilshad Vadsaria) – the two decide to join forces and rob a bank. And so begins a manic, obscene race against the clock, which is nothing short of amazing given the film’s running time of eighty-three minutes. When you factor in the end credits, which typically eat up about four or five minutes, we’re talking about a film that’s barely over an hour in length. With such a small allotment, you’d think the filmmakers would devote less time to crude sex jokes and more to plot advancement and character development. When you’re being beaten over the head with four-letter dialogue, there does come a point when it stops being funny.

There isn’t much to the roles of Dwayne and Travis. I guess you could say that McBride and Swardson have “chemistry,” although that’s easy to achieve when all you’re required to do is swear like a sailor and act like a goofball. Eisenberg and Ansari, on the other hand, bounce off of each other with the timing and precision of natural born comedians. Their characters are in a desperate situation, and they’re understandably hysterical about it. Even during the bank robbery scene, at which point both have their head covered with ski masks, their unique personalities practically explode off of the screen. For Ansari, it might have come easily to him given his background in standup comedy. For Eisenberg, he’s essentially relying on the same style of delivery that made him so memorable in The Social Network. The only difference is that this time, the volume has been turned up.

Admittedly, the film gets more suspenseful as it nears the end, which is to say that some serious thought went into the editing process. There came a point at which I was no longer sure where the story was going, and only half of me wanted to find out. When it was finally over, I didn’t know how to process what I had just seen. I did, however, recognize that, structurally speaking, there was a definite payoff. There’s nothing worse than a film that doesn’t see itself through to the end.

All the same, I’m not convinced that this movie could only have been made as a comedy. Considering its disjointed, bipolar tone, it seems as if the filmmakers were having the same lingering doubts all throughout the shoot. There are specific shots, especially towards the end, that are clearly not intended to be funny, such as when someone – and I’m not going to say who – is graphically torched by a flamethrower. There are others that reach too far in their efforts to make us laugh, such as when McBride and Swardson watch a Friday the 13th movie on a big-screen TV and act out a series of profane sexual maneuvers. Neither gives a clear indication of what the film is supposed to be. Perhaps the intention was for 30 Minutes or Less to defy the limiting constraints of genre and simply be. I honestly don’t know.

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Columbia Pictures


About the Author: Chris Pandolfi