From a world infested with zombies to a world inhabited by a couple of low rent criminals obsessed with oral sex, Jesse Eisenberg stars in this new, almost hilarious action/comedy 30 MINUTES OR LESS from ZOMBIELAND director, Ruben Fleischer. The emphasis here is more comedy because the action is quite minimal, but neither aspect ever shines as bright as it could. Fleischer once again proves himself as a competent director, but the story never seems fully developed and almost like the writer indeed tried throwing a script together in 30 minutes or less.
Jesse Eisenberg follows up his Academy Award nominated performance in THE SOCIAL NETWORK with the character Nick who delivers pizzas for a living. Nick is somehow friends with Chet (Aziz Ansari), a substitute teacher, even though they both have huge personal issues with the other. Nick is called on a delivery to two bumbling idiots Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), who strap a bomb to Nick and tell him he must get them $100,000 in 10 hours. Dwayne needs the money to pay a hitman to murder his millionaire father who treats Dwayne like a loser. Nick somehow talks Chet into being an accomplice to the crime.
Fleischer’s follow-up to ZOMBIELAND isn’t a complete departure from his style in the zombie horror/comedy, at least in terms of quirky character comedy. 30 MINUTES OR LESS is similar in that even when serious and violent things are happening there’s still a light hearted tinge to the proceedings. Visually, this film is much different from ZOMBIELAND because the wide range of apocalyptic horizons and deserted cities are gone and things are simplified down to plane ol’ sets with a limited amount of action. It’s better because of the simplified formula, but also flawed for different reasons.
The simplified visual approach works to the films favor, however there are half baked plot elements that do not flatter the brief barely 80 minute runtime. There’s the relationship between Nick and Chet’s sister, the strained history between Nick and Chet where they have each done or said morally questionable things that affected the other, the relationship between Dwayne and Travis, Dwayne and his dad, Dwayne and a stripper and Dwayne’s connection to a hitman. Naturally, with all these things squeezed into a fast paced film several of them suffer in terms of their relevance to the film. Everything technically gets worked in to the film in a somewhat satisfying way, but none of them stick out and make any one relationship resonate to a memorable extent.
Danny McBride and Aziz Ansari are the two funniest characters in the film. McBride is a confident, loud and every other sentence out of his mouth has to do with oral sex of some kind. Ansari just states the complete obvious but in a completely sarcastic and animated way, but also squeezes comedy out of even the dullest of moments. Eisenberg has a certain amount of charm, but doesn’t come across as likable or charismatic as we’ve previously seen him. Nick Swardson and Fred Willard are- well they’re just Nick Swardson and Fred Willard.
The parts that stick out during 30 MINUTES OR LESS are when it seems like the actors are seemingly improvising their lines. I could be completely wrong and there following the script word for word, but there were several moments that illicit the biggest laugh out loud moments that felt unscripted. There are a lot of well staged jokes and sequences though it’s just that there are sections that feel forced or not fully fleshed out. Another flaw in the film are some severely outlandish scenarios that are obviously set up to get laughs (and they do), but the constant shifts from outlandish comedy to action to character moments back to outlandish comedy and so on make it almost impossible to establish a connection to any character or specific moment in the film.
30 MINUTES OR LESS has a formula that mimics that of a buddy cop film, but here there are two buddy films stuffed into one. There are highs and there are lows- I’m happy to be on the positive side as I got a lot of enjoyment from the absurd comedy. The script does seem to have been concocted during a night of partying and friends riffing out as many penis and vagina jokes as they could think of, but the results hit more often than they miss. Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride are hilarious and Jesse Eisenberg definitely gives the film some energy but no one gives 30 MINUTES OR LESS that extra push I feel like it needs. Ruben Fleischer’s comedy isn’t as impressive as his debut, but it has a lot of laughs to make it a perfectly watchable flick.