The story of a pizza-delivery guy forced to rob a bank at bomb-point, 30 Minutes or Less is a small-time crock about small-time crooks.
What a depressingly disappointing second outing from director Ruben Fleischer — every bit as terrible as his 2009 debut, Zombieland, was terrific. It isn’t exciting. It isn’t clever. It isn’t funny. It just isn’t. Nowhere to be found are Zombieland’s visual panache, vividly comic characterizations and unexpectedly vivacious social commentary.
Perhaps the bomb could be a metaphor for a small window of time during which to make something of yourself. Or, if you wanted to scrape — and by “scrape,” meaning “work your fingers down to the nub” — the film could be a shot at emasculated men emulating whatever popular culture they could find and learning only by what they read online. Ah, screw it. It’s a drinking game in training. Take a shot when Danny McBride says “pussy.”
Look, if there were gags that worked, swift pacing or manic, go-for-broke insanity, 30 Minutes or Less wouldn’t have to be about anything other than low-hanging comic fruit. But it’s unsettlingly lame, overly busy and shockingly boring. Not even blowhard-comedy pros like McBride and Aziz Ansari can inflate this flat folly with anything more than hot air. At a paltry 83 minutes (with end credits), it’s still padded with sequences of seemingly improvisational blather and bluster. And save a couple of throwaway snickers, the redband trailer has ruined all its good jokes. Only Jesse Eisenberg, reuniting with Fleischer from Zombieland, comes off OK — injecting plausible panic into the proceedings as a guy shocked to find self-empowerment within an emergency situation.
Woe adult pizza guys like Nick (Eisenberg) — eternal doormats of the food-service industry on whom shit is wiped daily without shame. If the pie’s not there in the movie title’s window, it comes out of his check. Barely getting by in Grand Rapids, Mich., Nick bemoans his life while never really considering other options. (Shot on location, 30 Minutes or Less makes the city out to be a hollow hellhole for lowlifes, thugs and shitheels.)
Maybe it’s enough that he’s best buds with snarky substitute schoolteacher Chet (Ansari). Or that he woos Chet’s twin sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria), behind Chet’s back. But Nick’s easygoing nature crumbles as Kate announces plans to leave for Atlanta, a long-ago betrayal by Chet is revealed, and Chet learns Nick and Kate are a thing.
Worse yet, Nick is just the sort of low-visibility loser that dimwitted, delusional delinquent Dwayne (McBride) and his bomb-building buddy, Travis (Nick Swardson), are seeking. Nick becomes the hapless target in their latest scheme — kidnapped by Dwayne and Travis in ape masks, fitted with a bomb vest and forced to rob a bank. Dwayne’s endgame is getting cash to put a hit on his tyrannical ex-Marine dad (Fred Ward), collect the inheritance and enjoy as a slutty stripper “polishes King Dwayne’s scepter.” Out of guilt, Chet accepts Nick’s jittery plea for help, and the two become tangled in a plot that’s like the Farrelly Brothers’ Fargo with far fewer laughs than that suggests.
30 Minutes or Less drops the names of modern action classics like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Point Break and Heat. But it fails to pick up anything that worked about any of those movies — even at a level of parody a la Hot Fuzz or slick violence a la Pineapple Express (an equally leaden cousin to this that looks fresh by comparison).
Fleischer gaffles “The Heat Is On” from Beverly Hills Cop to accompany a downtown car chase — a sequence that finally gets the blood going until you realize, like all the good jokes, its action payoffs ended up in the previews. Plus, the robbery is peculiarly stiff. Writer Michael Diliberti (working off a story co-concocted with Matthew Sullivan) doesn’t even bother to set the table, let alone create a comic centerpiece, and he ends his film with a post-credits epilogue that erases what little edge existed. (And no, that edge isn’t in the idea of leaving no racial epithet unhurled. (“Slumdog”? Really?)
30 Minutes or Less certainly arrives hot, fresh and steaming. But that’s not deep dish you smell from the summer’s worst R-rated comedy and one of the year’s worst overall.