30 Minutes or Less
Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Fred Ward, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Peña, Bianca Kajlich. (2011, R, 83 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
An action comedy that uses a suicide vest loaded with C4 as its central plot device had better be funny or, at least, thrilling. Otherwise, the narrative device will detonate and the results won’t be pretty. That’s what happens in 30 Minutes or Less, director Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up to his breakout hit Zombieland. Fleischer’s previous film married a sweet love story and some genuine surprises with familiar zombie-genre tropes. The dual bromances at the heart of his new film, however, are as unconvincing as the life-and-death action plot that propels the film. 30 Minutes or Less, which is clearly inspired by a real-life tragedy that happened a few years ago to pizza delivery guy Brian Wells in Erie, Penn., also does itself no favors by denying its connection to that stranger-than-fiction event. Eisenberg, who also starred in Zombieland, reunites with Fleischer for 30 Minutes, but it’s joyless to see the talented young actor’s Oscar-nominated turn in The Social Network trailed by this misfire. Eisenberg plays Nick, a shiftless, post-college-age pizza delivery guy for a Domino’s-like company that promises delivery in 30 minutes or less. His relationship with his roommate and best friend, Chet (Ansari) has hit a sudden snag with Nick’s confession that he once slept with Chet’s twin sister, Kate (Vadsaria). Concurrently, an even more shiftless pair of buddies, Dwayne (McBride) and Travis (Swardson) plot to kill Dwayne’s ex-military dad (Ward) in order to collect his massive lottery winnings and invest them in a brothel that also fronts as a tanning salon. First, however, they need cash to hire the hitman (Pena) who has been recommended to them by an exotic dancer (Kajlich). So they order a pizza; knock out the hapless victim who happens to be Nick; and strap a suicide vest to him with instructions to rob a bank and bring back the money or the vest will be remotely detonated. First-time screenwriter Michael Dillberti (working from a story idea he developed with Michael Sullivan) is not up to the task of eking comedy from this situation, and I’m not sure that any writers short of the Coen brothers or John Waters actually possess the requisite perverse wit. Nick must overcome a series of obstacles along the way, and though his pal Chet helps him out, Ansari isn’t skilled enough to make the character believable, although he manages to deliver some amusing riffs along the way. Nick’s romance with his best friend’s sister is a flaccid thing, and never becomes anything to root for. McBride does his usual big-idiot stuff, and only Peña gets in a few off-the-beaten-path moments as the Hispanic assassin. Basically, “30 minutes or less” is a phrase you will think of often during this film’s brief 83 minutes.