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 utter dumbshit criminals?
Not from this one. Usefully misprinted on various occasions as “30 Minutes of Less,” director Ruben Fleischer’s sophomore feature, after 2009’s “Zombieland,” does suggest a new benchmark in summer-movie expectation tempering. “30 Minutes or Less” is what it’s really called, in accordance with a pizza-delivery plot point, but the truth is that we’ve got about half an hour of material here, and it’s low-grade material. With that in mind, the correct title doesn’t help: If this needs a whole extra hour to get to us, we really shouldn’t have to pay for it.
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 lofty, sneering 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 Fleischer’s crude, anti-Coen sort of populism is a film that doesn’t care at all about cleanliness or coherence. In “Zombieland,” Fleischer’s shrugging don’t-mind-the-details stance passed well for lightness of touch; here, among fictitious dopey Grand Rapids down-and-outers and their petty lethal schemes, it grates.
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 the junkyard flamethrower.)
Narrowness of range was an asset for Eisenberg in “The Social Network,” 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 is it his best destiny to help Fleischer finger the pulse of a certain aggro-dude demographic?
The plot involves an inheritance, an ex-Marine ballbuster 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” does sort of anticipate the future. We can at least imagine watching this on some distant dreary work night, on a laptop in the convenience store parking lot, waiting for a too-stoned buddy to grab something to eat, and wondering, “Wait, did we already see this?”
Progress it ain’t.