'30 Minutes of Less' Offers at Least Twice as Many Laughs

As long as we stay situated on the duos and their dithering silliness, 30 Minutes or Less is a light and airy piffle. Otherwise, it struggles to keep itself, and its audience from wandering off.

30 Minutes or Less

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Peña, Bianca Kajlich, Fred Ward
Rated: R
Studio: Sony Pictures
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-08-12 (General release)
UK date: 2011-10-16 (General release)

When it works, which is quite often, 30 Minutes or Less is a very funny movie - very funny indeed. It takes a horrifyingly cruel premise and turns the entire thing into a bifurcated buddy comedy. On the side of 'good' are Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari. They play long time friends forced into a bank robbery by 'bad' guys Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. Influencing matters from the outside are a hitman played by Michael Pena and a fuming military father played by Fred Ward. Under the tutelage of Zombieland director Rueben Fleischer and with a solid if occasionally spotty script from Michael Dilibert, the laughs come directly out of the interaction between their characters, not their often outrageous circumstances. Unfortunately, when those silly situations take center stage, the movie starts to meander and misfire.

Tired of waiting for his mean ex-Marine father (Ward) to finally die (and leave him all the lottery money he's won), slovenly slacker Dwayne (McBride) concocts a scheme with his explosives expert buddy Travis (Swardson). They will hire someone to kill the old man. Sadly, they need $100K to get this idea off the ground. Desperate, they decide to strap a homemade bomb vest to a clueless pizza boy named Nick (Eisenberg) and force him to rob a bank. Scared spitless, Nick decides to get his best buddy Chet (Ansari) to help him. Reluctant at first, the duo finally decide to pull the heist and get it over with. Naturally, they are badly bumbling crooks, and to make matters worse, the guy hired to do the hit (Pena) shows up, throwing a violent wrench in everyone's already suspect plans.

30 Minutes of Less is a movie that really doesn't require its tacky TNT premise to exist. When you learn about the real story surrounding this film's flimsy narrative, you realize a certain level of incredibly bad taste (or claimed production naiveté) is at work. Luckily, most of what the cast and crew accomplish plays outside the bomb/bank heist dynamic. Instead, it's all about the interaction between the pairs, with a few of the actors more successful than others. When working against Ward, whose a stitch here as the rock hard military dad, McBride and Swardson are fine. They have the right balance of misplaced bravado and soured offspring compliance. When they hang their head in schoolboy shame, it's a hoot. Outside his domineering influence, however, their shtick doesn't play as well. Dwayne and Travis need someone to play off of, a figure of authority to reluctantly thumb their nose at. Otherwise, they come across as lame and extremely lunkheaded.

The same can't be said for Eisenberg and Ansari. They are perfect together, their curse-laden conversations and well-played putdowns a combination of old school boy shenanigans and raw real life angst. The fact that Nick is a smart kid slumming as a delivery boy isn't the only difference between the best buds. Chet - a school teacher - takes his pending adulthood serious, so much so that when he discovers that his friend may have deflowered his sexy twin sister (Dilshad Vadsaria), it drives a wedge in their relationship that 30 Minutes or Less makes the most of. Whenever the film focuses on Nick and Chet, it zings. Ansari walks away with most of the F-bomb fueled conversational confrontations, but Eisenberg's jittery charms work on us as well.

If the movie has a main flaw it's the idea that we care little about what happens within the crime. Since we think Dwayne and Travis are dorks and believe that Nick and Chet aren't savvy enough to do a double cross (and the less said about Pena's prickly cholo, the better), the bank element becomes nothing more than a crazy catalyst, a high concept way of keeping these characters together long past their cinematic rationality to do so. Besides, there are massive gaps in the plot and leaps of logic one has to accept in order for all the felonious hijinx to fully work. Chet could simply learn the truth, leave Nick alone, contact the police, tell them what is going on. They could then figure out a way to 'defuse' the entire situation. Similarly, since Dwayne and Travis are always somewhere nearby, observing the mayhem, some decent detective work via a subversive suggestion to the cops could nab them before detonation.

No, the bomb is the biggest red herring here, a device to take an already amplified action comedy and turn it into a white water whirlwind. It's like a magnetic, drawing in divergent elements that would never otherwise coexist within a standard comedy. Since Fleischer isn't twisting convention, reimaging genres as he piles on the jokes, he shows little true panache. He just puts the players through their paces, adding a bit of sparkle when he thinks the gags are falling flat. Indeed, there are long streaks where nothing gels: McBride acts the obvious buffoon and meanders pointlessly; Swardson's underdeveloped sidekick sputters and sinks; Eisenberg's anxiety overwhelms everything else and Ansari plays one too many brown race cards. By the time the forced romance is thrown in, we can start to see where things are going wrong.

And yet thanks to the profane personalities involved, because they find ways to bounce off of and into each other in entertaining ways, 30 Minutes of Less delivers at least twice as many laughs. With its breeze by running time, no looking back approach and joke a minute ideal, the film flies more than it flops. It's not perfect, but then again, it would probably never claim a capability to be so. In a realm - the R-rated comedy - that continues to substituted gross out griping for actual humor, this film has actual wit. Unfortunately, it is often buried in a manic maelstrom of unsettled chaos. As long as we stay situated on the duos and their dithering silliness, 30 Minutes or Less is a light and airy piffle. Otherwise, it struggles to keep itself, and its audience from wandering off.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.