The R-rated comedy, which saw a resurgence in the summer of 2005 with the box office hits “Wedding Crashers” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” has been taking a hit recently. Widespread complacency has plagued films like “Horrible Bosses” and “Bad Teacher,” which use four-letter words and suggestive sexuality like a crutch, indicating they have no real legs to stand on. For a genre that once thrived on audacity and ingenuity, it seems the effect has more or less worn off. What we’re left with is nothing more than a formula, riddled with dick jokes and swear words.Such is the case with the new film “30 Minutes or Less,” a take on the buddy action flick that finds friends Nick and Chet—played by Jesse Eisenberg and comedian Aziz Ansari, respectively—in a heap of trouble after Nick is strapped with a bomb and told to rob a bank by Dwayne (Danny McBride), a dimwitted criminal. Nick, a hapless pizza delivery boy, has no choice but to comply, thus kicking off a madcap adventure full of car chases and Mexican standoffs.
The premise is harmless enough—although it does borrow heavily from a similar, real-life incident in which a pizza delivery man, made to look like a hostage, died after a bomb, strapped to his neck by his co-conspirators, was detonated after he failed to rob a bank—but director Reuben Fleischer makes sure to infuse as much crudeness as possible into the 83-minute film. What unfolds is a frequently uninventive comedy that takes its single concept and beats it to a pulp, harvesting as much humor as possible before reaching an improbable and tedious conclusion.
Structurally, the film unfolds like a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch, piling scenarios on top of scenarios without ever building to anything substantial. Rather than employ traditional narrative techniques, Fleischer and screenwriter Michael Diliberti simply let Eisenberg and Ansari run free—a method that can work splendidly in comedy given the right elements. For instance, the anarchic surreality of a film like “Anchorman” allows for the inanity and illogic of its premise, which finds characters getting in fights with bears and kicking dogs off of bridges.
“30 Minutes or Less,” meanwhile, never goes far enough to earn the aloofness it desires. At that, Ansari and Eisenberg, while fine performers in their own right, are left mostly to their own devices here. The free rein they’re given to improvise doesn’t yield the best of results, however. Eisenberg, in particular, is a fish out of water, trying his best to flex his comedic muscle but never quite giving enough effort.
His performance could possibly be read as merely staying true to his character—a spineless and apathetic slacker devoid of motivation—but the result is no more satisfying. Ansari also seems to drift through his role, often yelling and screaming but never really saying anything.
His overcompensation is likely due to the fact that, despite its bevy of action sequences and topless chicks, there simply isn’t anything happening in “30 Minutes or Less.” Fleischer compensates for this with a distinctly ham-fisted aesthetic, which utilizes frequent smash cuts and ramped up musical montages to distract the audience from the film’s complete lack of substance.
It’s a tried and true Hollywood tactic, which Fleischer—whose debut film “Zombieland” was another glorified gimmick that was only interesting for the 20 minutes Bill Murray was onscreen—executes deftly. Which is good for him and his paycheck, but bad for us and our sanity.