You can tell the difference between Ruben Fleischer’s gem of a debut Zombieland and his sophomore effort 30 Minutes Or Less fairly immediately: a good script. The former had a brilliant riff on the zombie genre with a great, quirky performance from Jesse Eisenberg and a brilliant one from Woody Harrelson. The latter has a pedestrian performance from Eisenberg with an occasionally funny moment from Aziz Ansari. And it can be based traced back to the difference of using a brilliant script and using one that’s not so much.
Nick (Eisenberg) is a pizza delivery boy with a fairly pedestrian life. He gets high, delivers pizza and hangs out with his best friend Chet (Ansari). Both aren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the bunch but Chet at least has some sort of ambition to life, working as an elementary school teacher in their native Grand Rapids, MI. The fun begins when two bigger idiots with less going for them in life (Danny McBride, Nick Swardson) decide to make Nick rob a bank for them. Kidnapping him after ordering a pizza, and strapping a bomb to his chest, Nick and Chet have less than 10 hours to get them $100,000 or else Nick’s vest explodes.
It’s an intriguing premise based off a real life case of similar note but played for comic effect. The problem is that the film’s comedy falls remarkably short of the level needed to keep it entertaining throughout. This is a script problem as opposed to an acting problem because the material just isn’t all that good. You can see where they’re going with it but it’s done in a haphazard manner. And it starts with Nick, a character woefully inappropriate for Jesse Eisenberg as it gets.
Eisenberg just doesn’t have that knack for playing a stupid character and Nick has a knack for being stupid. The other variants of the character, the quick talking and the quality one-liners, are actually enjoyable with Eisenberg. He’s as miscast as it gets for this film and he stands out like a sore thumb. He and Ansari make a terrific duo and one imagines how good a film could be with much better material.
Fleischer’s sophomore film does a lot well and it carries over from how he designed Zombieland in terms of story and tone. This is a breezy comedy that doesn’t take itself all too seriously, a trait he also brought to his rookie effort, and it’s also well put together. This is a film that has a great pace that doesn’t drag from a story perspective. Fleischer shows the ability to craft a good-looking film, even if it isn’t one that’ll resonate. He has a great style to how he puts together his film and shows a great eye in terms of shot composition. It’s a beauty of efficiency as everything he does in the film is set up to matter in the long run. There is nothing unnecessarily crammed in there to bulk up running time; there’s nothing you can point to and go “this wasn’t needed.” What it did need, however, were two different villains than what he received in the film.
The film’s other major problem are its villains, McBride and Swardson. Neither is funny at all in this film, which is a surprise because both have been comic gems in otherwise poor films. McBride has shown that he can carry a comedy on his own in both cinematic versions and on television but he’s just painfully unfunny in this. Swardson isn’t much better and the substantial film time the two get drags the film down to the point where the film suffers substantially for them being in it. It’s a shame because McBride has a lot of talent, and Swardson can deliver the occasional funny moment, so the fact that a large portion of the film doesn’t work because of them is disappointing.
They talk all the time about a sophomore slump, with only a handful of directors being able to avoid it like Jason Reitman, but all 30 Minutes or Less shows is that Ruben Fleischer is that sometimes you can’t overcome an unfunny script.
Director: Ruben Fleischer Notable Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Michael Pena, Fred Ward Writer(s): Michael Diliberti
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.