August 11, 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Amos 'n' Aziz

Grade: C

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Peña, and Fred Ward

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hr 23 min.

30 Minutes or Less describes the approximate length of time the premise of this merrily profane, hyperactive buddy action-comedy merits your attention. Unfortunately, common sense departs the theater not long after the opening credits.

Two do-nothing slackers – Dwayne (Danny McBride, temporarily hitting the snooze button on his 15 minutes countdown) and Travis (Nick Swardson) – split time between strip clubs, assembling homemade explosives and dreaming of opening a tanning salon/brothel. All they lack – other than couth and rudimentary aptitude – is the startup cash, which Dwayne hopes to inherit from his lotto-winning father, a ramrod ex-Marine nicknamed “The Major” (Fred Ward).

To speed up the line of intestate succession, Dwayne and Travis first need $100k to hire a Latino killer (Michael Peña) to take out The Major. So, they devise a plan to strap a vest full of dynamite to some stranger and threaten to explode it unless he robs a bank and delivers the would-be blood money to them within 10 hours.

Their hapless patsy turns out to be Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a harried pizza delivery boy whose only pal, Chet (Aziz Ansari), defriends him after learning that Nick once deflowered and still harbors feelings for Chet’s twin sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria).

If for no other reason, the story’s madcap frenzy is needed to squeeze out any encroaching questions about the puzzling plot before they take cerebral root. Who knows why Dwayne presumes his disapproving dad hasn’t willed his wealth elsewhere, or why Dwayne and Travis just don’t get Nick to steal enough money to start their business and cut out the middle hitman? There’s little to explain why Chet, a school teacher, readily agrees to help Nick carry out multiple thefts – including a getaway car from a neighbor – or how Nick can’t manage to elude Dwayne’s watchful eye in order to elicit help from the police when he’s able to duck out long enough to climb a rooftop and profess his love to Kate. And, when the two yokels kidnap Kate to pressure Nick into finally delivering the stolen loot to them, you wonder why they bothered with the vest in the first place.

However, the most perplexing aspect about 30 Minutes or Less is why director Ruben Fleischer – whose last film, Zombieland, also starred Eisenberg – thought it was good idea to make a zany knee-slapper obviously patterned after the tragic true story of Brian Douglas Wells, a pizza deliveryman killed in 2003 by a time bomb strapped around his neck after being forced to rob a bank by two co-conspirators. For this to work, Fleischer and writer Michael Diliberti needed to fashion a Coen Bros. facsimile, teasing the inherent farcical elements of this dark comedy with a sidelong perusal of the cultural and sociological rot that spawned it.

What keeps the film palatable is the absurdist chemistry exhibited by Eisenberg and Ansari (TV’s Parks and Recreation) along with McBride and Swardson. While their characters make little sense, their snappy repartee references dated touchstones (Arsenio Hall and Point Break) and skewers contemporary tableaus like Netflix, 5-Hour Energy drink, and Facebook – Nick/Eisenberg, Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, tells Kate that he didn’t review a friend’s status because “(y)ou know I don’t check that s*#t; I’m off the grid.”

Still, even at 83 minutes, 30 Minutes of Less feels protracted. Unlike late pizza, you might not necessarily want your money back. But, you won’t be coming back for seconds.

Neil Morris

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