Two years ago, a little film called Zombieland hit, and Hollywood took notice. Despite not being based on any franchise or copywritten property, the original (if you consider another zombie film to be “original”) managed to do pretty good at the Box Office – a rarity for horror-comedy hybrids – and it wasn’t too bad, either. And in retrospect, it’s clearly done a lot to contribute to the popularity to freshmen members of the A-List, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone.
Today, Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer follow-up 30 Minutes or Less hits theaters and, while it’s an action-comedy rather than a horror-comedy, it’s more or less a similar experience to his first film.
In 30 Minutes or Less, Nick, a pizza delivery guy (hence the title), gets ambushed at one delivery and wakes up the next day with a bomb wrapped around his torso. How does he get it off? Rob a bank and deliver the spoils to his attackers, who’ll then and only then release him of the ties that bind him.
Like in Zombieland, Fleischer once again casts Eisenberg as the lead, Nick. Eisenberg had become the go-to actor for neurotic young men, right up to his brilliant performance in last year’s The Social Network that tweaked and perfected his persona. From there, he didn’t have anywhere to go but down, so it’s refreshing to see he’s trying something different with 30 Minutes or Less. This time, his character is half-angst and half-unconcerned with the direction of his life, delivering pies without really thinking about it. It’s not Eisenberg’s best role, but he does well enough to prove he’s no one-trick pony.
Eisneberg’s just one member of an ensemble, though, so he doesn’t have to blow us away. He’s one-half of a buddy duo alongside Aziz Ansari, as Nick’s best friend trying to keep him alive throughout his day from hell. Ansari is a hyper comedian that’s proven pretty adept at delivering funny on the dot without showing any effort on NBC’s excellent Parks and Recreation. He never gets any opportunities to really shine like a long-running sitcom is capable of delivering, but Ansari is still responsible for a lot of laughs here.
Danny McBride and Nick Swardson hold down as the over-their-heads perps in the picture. McBride is playing the same white-trash asshole he’s been in any other role (see Eastbound & Down, The Foot-Fist Way or Pineapple Express), but the funny hasn’t been worn out yet. The real revelation is Swardson, whom I’ve never regarded in a kind light. Maybe that’s just because he’s a perennial presence in Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison movies, but he’s affecting and funny here as the sweeter component to McBride’s Get-Rich-or-Die-Trying bad guy.
30 Minutes or Less never quite shakes a stale formula that requires some willingness to meet halfway. Having a bomb strapped onto a main character after thirty minutes of a regular, non-fantastic character comedy is a little hard to swallow, like a thematic Deux ex machina. And it hits a lot of the typical marks that action movies observe, like the love-interest-turned-damsel-in-distress, or last-minute fuck-up.
But this is first and foremost a comedy, which means little else matters if it can land laughs. And on that count, 30 Minutes or Less definitely delivers. In a summer full of R-Rated comedies, this feels like one of the best. It might not have the depth of Bridesmaids, but it’s much more efficient than the pretty funny Horrible Bosses.
For an alternative perspective you can check out Cap’n Carrot’s more lukewarm reaction to the movie.