How’s this for timing. Earlier this year Domino’s Pizza ended its “30 Minutes or It’s Free” guarantee in South Korea. The pizza chain was complicit in the death or serious injury of hundreds of pizza delivery guys in Korea, and probably responsible for countless cases of bodily harm with a vehicle trying to make deliveries in time. Now we have a movie where the founder of Facebook (The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg) is slumming it in Grand Rapids, Mich., for minimum wage transporting pies as far as a town away. And since the non-franchise parlor where he works invokes the “30 Minutes or Less” rule he doesn’t always make his deliveries in time. If only there was a “dislike” button he could press.
Much like the film Phone Booth arrived as payphones were on their way out, 30 Minutes or Less seems to be a tongue in cheek reference to a practice that seems to be wearing thinner than thin crust pizza.
Billed as an action-comedy, Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up to 2009’s Zombieland is partly inspired by a true event. On August 23, 2003, pizza delivery man Brian Douglas Wells was killed when a bomb fastened to his neck detonated as police approached him. He was a co-conspirator in planning a bank robbery with two others. Wells was under the impression that a real bomb would not be used during the actual robbery. However, his accomplices in the crime made sure that Wells wouldn’t break his silence if apprehended.
Starting things off, the opening credit sequence makes Eisenberg out to be the best stunt driver in town; so good you’d think he moonlights as a wheelman when business gets slow. His character, Nick, is much like Dante in Clerks: a walking-talking example of wasted potential. Unmotivated, he continues to suffer through his McJob of a job. As Nick sticks to his gig of delivering pizza, he watches as his best friend Chet (Parks & Recreation‘s Aziz Ansari) and Chet’s twin sister Katie (Dilshad Vadsaria) – who Nick loves – better their lives with new job opportunities.
When Nick is tasked to make a delivery on the outskirts of town he is ambushed by Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), a pair of dimwits that make you wonder what a live-action Beavis & Butt-head movie would be like. Dwayne has a hair-brained plan to speed up his inheritance that involves a hit man and a bomb strapped to a patsy. As you might expect Eisenberg is the unwilling pawn in this scheme, not the killer for hire. He’s been ordered by Dwayne to obtain $100,000 and he has ten hours to complete the task. Nick freaks, of course, and no amount of pot, which he uses recreationally, will calm his nerves. So he turns to Chet to help him rob a bank and shenanigans result.
For whatever reason, 30 Minutes or Less seems like a step back for director Ruben Fleischer and star Jesse Eisenberg. They did Zombieland together and that was a wild zombie-horror comedy. Here, we have tinges of comedy but the jokes fail more than they work. And it’s an action-comedy with only momentary spurts of action. The characters, except for Ansari’s Chet and Michael Pena as the hit-man, seemingly the only men in the movie that can get the audience to chuckle, are wasted. Eisenberg, recently minted with his Oscar nom for The Social Network, seems to take a step back in terms of growth as an actor. Granted it’s just one part, but after seeing him as an intelligent douche would we really buy him in a dumb role?
To steal a line from O’Brother Where Art Thou, McBride and Swardson are dumber than a bag of hammers. Their characters have no filter. Whatever thoughts pop into their heads they say without shame. (Again, they are Beavis and Butt-head’s live-action counterparts.) This is nothing new for McBride, who continues to sport the same mullet and half-baked bravado that has defined him as a comedian. Their shtick wears out long before the comedy finishes, and with a total length of 75 minutes before closing credits the substantial laughs begin to taper off before the last act.
It is during the last act that 30 Minutes of Less becomes the demented comedy it should have been the entire time. Ruben Fleischer had originally conceived the movie as a dark comedy (think the Coens’ Fargo), but with comedians Ansari and McBride on board it was going to be funny no matter what direction the movie took. However, Jody Hill’s Observe & Report from a few years ago is a dark-humored comedy that didn’t neuter its original concept.
To be fair, 30 Minutes or Less is not a complete bust. But it’s hard to overlook its annoying faults – in particular, the need of a stronger ensemble and better script. On the bright side it will make the target demographic laugh, even though my favorite moments were probably missed on those who attended the screening. The first is a meta-joke, and if you’ve paid attention to Jesse Eisenberg movies referenced in this article it should be fairly obvious once you watch the movie. The other is the song that plays as Nick and Chet make their getaway. Fans of ‘80s buddy comedies should mark out big time.
Director: Ruben Fleischer Notable Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Michael Pena, Fred Ward Writer(s): Michael Diliberti
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!