Movie Review: 30 Minutes or Less

By Matthew Huntley

August 22, 2011

Sure, this movie tanked, but I still have my Academy Award nomination to keep me warm.

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Whether or not the plot of 30 Minutes or Less was drawn from a real-life tragedy is beside the point, because no matter how you look at it, this comedy is a dud. It’s not the movie’s alleged insensitivity toward a terrible event that should urge people to avoid it; it’s the movie itself, which is cursed with lazy writing, obnoxious performers and a meandering narrative that makes it a very long 83 minutes to endure.

One of the essential problems is it assumes the audience wants to listen to inane dialogue that we sometimes say to ourselves or in passing. For instance, how many times has someone said to you, “That’s what she said,” even though its context is not a sexual situation? Or have you ever pondered why you have a Netflix account when the DVDs just sit on your coffee table?

These are the kinds of things the characters talk about, and although we’ve probably all heard or thought about them, it doesn’t mean they belong in a screenplay. This is why it’s lazy - the writers couldn’t come up with anything more inspired so they defaulted to pointless observations in an attempt to speak the target demographics’ language, which I suppose is teenage boys.

But if I was a teenage boy again, I would be insulted. Couldn’t the writers imagine dialogue that was fresher, more insightful, more ironic and, above all, more funny? And why wouldn’t the director put it upon his actors to deliver their lines more convincingly? The whole production just feels half-as*ed.

The plot follows Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a pizza delivery boy who smokes joints and deliberately runs through red lights and stop signs to ensure he delivers his pizza in under 30 minutes (otherwise it's free). Nick is best friends with Chet, played by the stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari, who, I’m sorry to say, has no business making another movie until he takes some acting lessons. I’ve seen Ansari perform live and he’s much more comfortable and natural on-stage, but on-screen he’s transparent, unconvincing and lacking in confidence. I could tell he was trying to act, which pretty much defeats the purpose of acting.


Nick and Chet get into a fight when Nick tells Chet he slept with his twin sister (Dilshad Vadsaria), but that’s only a fraction of their troubles. Later that day, Nick is kidnapped by a couple thirtysomething ne’er-do-wells, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), who clean pools for a living but dream of owning a brothel that fronts as a tanning salon in their hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. To jumpstart the business and get rich fast, Dwayne hires an assassin (Michael Pena) to kill his wealthy, ex-military father (Fred Ward). Dwayne needs $100,000 to pay the hit man, so he and Travis kidnap Nick, tie a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank. Naturally, Nick seeks Chet out for help, and what ensues is a series of misadventures as they attempt to rob a bank and still walk away free, if only alive.

That’s the premise, which is promising enough, but the way the movie doesn’t come together makes for a slow and sometimes painful experience. You would think director Ruben Fleischer, who made the much more assured “Zombieland,” would have a clearer vision of what funny is, but not here. Instead of telling a story where the comedy propels the plot, it brings it to a standstill. There’s no rhythm or consistencey, and during scenes when the filmmakers probably knew they were approaching a comic dead zone (pretty much any scene when McBride and Swardson are the only ones on-screen), they revert to cheap sex humor.

Even when there is an attempt at a funny situation, it’s not clear what the punch line is. The filmmakers seem to think popular culture automatically translates into humor. For example, why is it funny when Dwayne mimics having sex with Jason from “Friday the 13th”? Or that Chet researches ways to disarm a bomb on-line then asks Nick if he’s ever seen “The Hurt Locker”? Or that Chet drinks three 5-hour energy drinks? Just because something is trendy and popular doesn't mean it's funny.

And if the characters aren’t speaking nonsense, they’re acting nonsensical, only not in a funny way. It’s sort of pathetic how everyone just seems to be yelling and sweating all the time. Is this what passes as comedy? Did the filmmakers really laugh during production?

Back to the real-life tragedy: Fleischer assures us there is no connection between 30 Minutes or Less and the untimely death of a Pennsylvania pizza man who was forced into robbing a bank. However, even if there was, there would be no reason to hold that against the movie. Art imitates life all the time, and to the movie’s defense, it shows no blatant disrespect for the actual victim. What we can hold against the movie is its dull and directionless execution. In the end, 30 Minutes or Less is not just a title; it’s the amount of time it takes for you realize you should have seen something else.



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