By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Short? Yes. Sweet? No.
If only 30 Minutes or Less were 30 minutes or less.
Bank heist flicks don’t come much more convoluted and lowbrow than 30 Minutes or Less, a madcap action comedy set in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Jesse Eisenberg, with an Oscar nomination for The Social Network in his pocket, stars as Nick, a pot-smoking slacker of a pizza delivery driver (the franchise’s promise: “30 minutes or less, or it’s free”) who is abducted by a couple of minor-league thugs.
Partners-in-botched-crime Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) need $100,000 so that they can hire a hit man, Chango (Michael Pena), to kill Dwayne’s ex-Marine dad (Fred Ward) before he can give away the $10-million family fortune that he won in a lottery jackpot and that is rapidly shrinking as he freely spends it.
So they abduct Nick and force him to rob a bank, assisted by his best buddy, bored schoolteacher Chet (Aziz Ansari), whom Nick talks into becoming his accomplice and whose twin sister Katie (Dilshad Vadsaria) Nick is romantically interested in — to Chet’s abiding dismay.
And how will the two ne’er-do-well stooges accomplish their goal? By forcing Nick to wear a remote-controlled bomb vest strapped to his chest that cannot be removed and giving him ten hours to rob a bank — or they’ll detonate.
The screenplay by Michael Diliberti is based on a story by Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan that recalls, whether purposefully or coincidentally, a similar real-life robbery that occurred in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 2003. But the ring of truth has long since stopped sounding.
As a caper comedy, this loose-as-a-goose second feature from director Ruben Fleischer (the more assured Zombieland, also featuring Eisenberg), is too hard-edged and mean-spirited by half. It also doesn’t help to know the tragic outcome of the real-life incident that the plot parallels, which hangs over the film like a humor-squelching dark cloud.
Thrills fail to materialize even in the action scenes, a motley collection of car chases, gunfights, and explosions that are briskly paced but clumsily staged and instantly forgettable.
The actors, as if acutely aware of the lame script they’re working from, mug like crazy and make things worse.
The chemistry between the two pairs of buddies — that is, between Eisenberg and Ansari as well as between McBride and Swardson — is minimal. Eisenberg pretty much plays straight man to Ansari’s motormouth style — although the latter’s ad-libbing does garner a number of laughs — while McBride registers as one-note blustery/obnoxious (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) for the umpteenth time.
But at least Eisenberg, an impressively resourceful actor, gets credit for committing to his character and keeping him real even when everything else around him is synthetic. It remains, however, a good performance in a bad movie.
The quantity-instead-of-quality approach, yielding two strained and unfunny tandems instead of one, absolutely walks away with the more-is-less trophy.
Admittedly, no one can accuse the film of wearing out its welcome, given the under-an-hour-and-a-half running time. But from a very early point we find ourselves, instead of getting more involved as things heat up, just waiting for the narrative to play itself out. Which is why we exit feeling that we’ve had a movie (as opposed to a pizza) delivered in under 90 (as opposed to 30) minutes, but that tastes lousy anyway, so what’s the difference?
So we’ll deliver 2 stars out of 4 for the manic, depressing actionomedy, 30 Minutes or Less. Its 83 minutes leaves us longing for less.