By modern movie standards, the polite action comedy of bumbling criminals seems awfully quaint. Might some refreshment be had from the rude slacker comedy of utterly imbecilic criminals?
Aziz Anasari (left) and Jesse Eisenberg star in the chuckle-worthy bank heist flick 30 Minutes or Less.
Not from this one. Given the actual 2003 incident in which a pizza delivery guy really did rob a bank with a bomb strapped to himself, and its horrible—if also Darwin Award-worthy—outcome, one might expect such stuff to find its way into movies as just another Coen brothers comedy. And Jesse Eisenberg, with his deadpan above-it-all intelligence, might be right for that. Clever-but-callow is his thing, along with the oblique confidence that his thing might be enough to hold even the shabbiest movie together.
But the trade-off of director Ruben Fleischer’s crude, anti-Coen sort of populism is a film that doesn’t care at all about cleanliness or coherence. In Zombieland, his debut, Fleischer’s shrugging don’t-mind-the-details stance registered as a soft touch; here, among fictitious dopey Grand Rapids down-and-outers and their petty lethal schemes, it is grating.
That 30 Minutes or Less isn’t wholly unfunny owes to the instincts of its stars, particularly Eisenberg as the pizza guy and Danny McBride as the criminal buffoon who presses him into the service of a screwy murder plot. Each has a reluctant co-conspirator and comedic accessory—Eisenberg’s is Aziz Ansari; McBride’s, Nick Swardson —and the dual-duo chemistry, though forced, does occasionally glitter. (Or maybe it’s just lit up by that junkyard flamethrower.)
Eisenberg’s narrow dramatic range worked for him when he played Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. But that was a much more exactingly directed film. Here it’s less useful, although he seems to know he’ll get his biggest laugh from a throwaway line about Facebook. Similarly, McBride is at the top of his own particular game of gleefully riffing on absolute repugnance—revealing the absurd, horrible monster in our pop-culture mirror. But couldn’t he do better than helping Fleischer touch the pulse of a certain aggro-dude demographic?
The plot involves an inheritance, a ballbusting ex-Marine father (Fred Ward), a gold-digging stripper (Bianca Kajlich), an ethnically flavorful hitman (Michael Peña), an attractive sister (Dilshad Vadsaria), and a unanimous acceptance of preposterousness. Michael Diliberti’s script, from a story by him and Matthew Sullivan, plants references to Point Break and Lethal Weapon with only enough discernment to hope they’ll indemnify its own genre clichés.
By modern movie standards, 30 Minutes or Less might sort of anticipate the future. We can at least imagine watching this on a laptop on some distant dreary work night, waiting for a slacker buddy to grab something to eat, and wondering, “Wait, did we already see this?”
Progress it ain’t.