Weekend release 30 Minutes or Less had everything I look for in light summer fare on paper. Here is a director with proven comedic chops in a genre flick -- Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame.
There is a proven and likeable straight man in Jesse Eisenberg. On one side is a proven and hilarious supporting cast -- Aziz Ansari, who is hilarious on Parks and Recreation, Danny McBride, who has become a star by channeling John Rocker as pitcher Kenny Powers on Eastbound & Down and blossoming funnymen Michael Pena and Nick Swardson. On the other side, there is a seemingly funny premise -- a slacker pizza delivery boy (Eisenberg playing Nick) settles on robbing a bank after McBride and Swardson, playing dimwitted losers with delusions of grandeur Dwayne and Travis, strap a bomb to his chest and demand $100,000.
It had all these things, and yet, it didn't quite come together as I had hoped. There isn't one particularly obvious thing that keeps 30 Minutes from working totally and completely. It has some wildly funny moments; I laughed audibly on numerous occasions. McBride basically played Kenny Powers for the whole film, while Ansari was a less boastful and ridiculous version of Tom Haverford, the character he plays so well on Parks and Rec. Both of those things are points in favor of 30 Minutes. But it just didn't quite work.
If you can't tell, I'm having some difficulty putting my finger on just why that happened, just what about the structure of the film and the acting left me wanting more when the credits rolled. I do have a few scattered thoughts on the subject, though:
• The premise wore thin far quicker than expected. That's pretty damning considering the length of the movie -- a scant 83 minutes. Somehow, the fact that Eisenberg had a bomb strapped to him got pretty boring pretty quickly. I didn't know it was possible for explosives to be this dull on screen. It almost seemed like a suit signed off on the pitch for the film before actually seeing a script and then Fleischer and screenwriter Michael Diliberti filled in the rest. I'm sure nothing like that would ever actually happen somewhere as principled as a Hollywood studio.
• The love story was incredibly weak. Eisenberg's Nick, it turns out, has a thing for the twin sister of Ansari's Chet. He and Katie slept together years ago -- a point of contention between best friends Nick and Chet -- but he never pursued it any further because he was, of course, "afraid." He is "afraid" in the most generic way possible, naturally. Other than a brief and cliche speech delivered by Eisenberg on the rooftop of Katie's apartment building when he's convinced he's going to be blown to smithereens, there's not even a token attempt to convince us that there is something between the pair or that Katie is even a real person instead of a vehicle for a happy ending.
• Eisenberg himself is unconvincing as the lead. His performance is uneven. It's hard to tell what, exactly, his redeeming qualities are and thus why someone like Katie would be the least interested in him romantically. It's especially disappointing when you consider the character he played in Zombieland -- a hopeless romantic, who has maintained that admirable quality despite a zombie apocalypse that has destroyed the very fabric of society.
• The ending was both unsatisfying and featured, by my estimation, a pretty major plot hole. Nick ends up free of the vest and gets the girl and the $100,000. For some reason, he and Chet resolve to keep the money after purposely blowing up the vest in Dwayne's van and accidentally killing Dwayne in the process. There's nothing that feels right about all of those developments. In the end, Nick and Chet seem as base and devoid of morals as Dwayne and Travis, willing to walk off with blood money that was stolen from hard-working people. Not only that, there's barely a hint that they'll pay any price for their actions. They easily could. A police officer sees both their faces outside the bank just after they rob it (Eisenberg scares him off by showing him the bomb). In a small city like Grand Rapids, Mich. that seems like it would be enough to cause a myriad of problems for two reluctant thieves, but that inconvenient little detail is never revisited.
Maybe that's the core of the problem with 30 Minutes or Less. Everything wears thin after awhile because not enough attention was paid to detail throughout the film. It's not an unpleasant experience on the whole, but it's not an entirely fulfilling or memorable one either.