Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review - 30 Minutes or Less

Working with David Fincher on a film like The Social Network must be a tough act to follow, but Jesse Eisenberg probably thought he was on safe ground when he reunited with his Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer for 30 Minutes or Less. Unfortunately, he has only made the transition from a sharply written, multilayered and precision-directed film to a movie that has been thrown together in the most careless and haphazard fashion. Alongside Eisenberg, who plays pizza delivery guy Nick (the title is a reference to the money-back guarantee on offer if Nick doesn't deliver on time), the film has cast Aziz Ansari as his buddy Chet, and these two work tirelessly to keep the thing moving, but 30 Minutes or Less so often stalls.

The film opens with two distinct narrative strands that eventually crash noisily into one another. Nick and Chet spend their days hanging out and smoking pot until Chet finds out that Nick has been seeing his twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria), a revelation that sparks further recriminations and results in the two pals grappling messily on the floor. They go their separate ways, with bad blood between them, but they will soon be reunited when Nick finds himself in a fix. That fix is the brainchild of Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), two idiots who have their eyes on the lottery fortune currently being enjoyed by Dwayne's father (Fred Ward). They decide to have the old man bumped off but in order to raise the $100,000 that a hitman charges these days, they'll have to rob a bank, which is where Nick comes in.

The idea of Nick wearing a bomb vest and having to rob a bank for these clowns has potential, but 30 Minutes or Less never seems entirely sure of what kind of movie it wants to be. There's a madcap, screwball energy to certain sequences but the film is too disjointed to work as a farce, and it frequently slows down for indulgent scenes in which Dwayne and Travis bicker tiresomely or discuss their plans for a tanning salon/brothel. McBride is at his most intolerable here as the stupid loudmouth arsehole who thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, and his belligerent delivery gets old very fast. Fleischer and his screenwriter Michael Diliberti struggle to work tasteless gags into the mix – a supermarket cashier suggests Nick and Chet are purchasing a "rape kit" when they buy toy guns and ski masks – in fact, the film's treatment of its female characters is pretty depressing throughout. The most notable woman on show is a stripper while Kate, whom Nick is supposed to be so enamoured with he'll risk taking a detour en route to the heist, is little more than window dressing.

There's one very funny scene in 30 Minutes or Less and it occurs when Nick and Chet finally make it into the bank and improvise their way through a robbery, but the film doesn't hit such heights again. 30 Minutes or Less is never quite sharp enough, never quite crazy enough and never quite funny enough, and it nosedives badly in its second half with scenes of violence that jar badly against the film's comic element. Are we meant to care about the film's various one-dimensional lowlife characters as they wind up shooting each other and setting themselves alight? The baffling resurrection of one apparently dead character for a post-credits gag suggests that none of it really matters anyway.