“30 Minutes or Less” has a lot going for it. It has the same director as “Zombieland” and features some truly stellar actors. The premise seems promising: high-strung pizza-boy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is living the loser life with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) until a couple of redneck criminals-in-the-making strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank for them. Unfortunately, the film falls slightly short of expectations.
The movie did succeed at the casting of its two main men, because Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari are a couple of winners. Ansari can draw laughs before he even opens his mouth. There’s just something about his face – his goofy, phenomenally expressive face – that is literally never not funny. The guy’s a pro. And Jesse does neurotic and freaking-the-heck-out better than anyone else in the business; he stammers more charmingly than Michael Cera, and he hasn’t gotten old yet. The two had decent chemistry: I believed their bromance, but only just.
The strongest aspect of the movie was its willingness to mix genuinely heart-pounding action with humor. The bank robbery scene, for instance, had Nick and Chet (hiding under ski masks and under the guise of a couple of Mexican escaped convicts) bust into their small town’s bank and lay waste to the place. Of course, the two aren’t exactly Bonnie and Clyde, so hilarity ensues, but even as the pair banters with one another and with their victims, the adrenaline levels continue to shoot up. Incidentally, it turns out almost the entire scene was improvised, which leads me to conclude that this movie could have been a lot better if it had more frequently stepped back and let the good actors to do what they did best.
Despite all this, the movie had a lot of mediocre elements. Sure, there were a few moments of cleverness – at one point, for instance, the script alluded to Jesse’s role in a “The Social Network” by having him scathingly dismiss Facebook – but for the most part, the movie went for the easy laughs. The pair of witless villains, Dwayne and Travis, demonstrates the worst of this: all of their jokes consist of Dwayne saying something ignorant or crude and Travis misinterpreting naively. It’s not that I felt it wasn’t high-brow enough; I love crudity, and in all honesty, I snickered at most of the jokes. It was just that the film leaned on this sort of thing as the foundation of its humor, and it got to be too much.
Additionally, in spite of all the strong acting talent, the characters themselves were fairly forgettable. Nick’s given a two-dimensional love interest, but their relationship was not really fleshed out in her five or 10 minutes of screen time. While the situations that Nick and Chet were placed in were humorous ones, nobody delivered a single memorable one-liner.
At the end of the day, “30 Minutes or Less” didn’t have anything particularly memorable or particularly quotable. It wasn’t heartwarming or humorous enough to be a “Zombieland” nor was it funny or outrageous enough to be a “Superbad.” It just…was. Don’t get me wrong, the film was certainly entertaining; I imagine that for those who see it, the movie will be frequently hilarious and enjoyable but will be promptly forgotten the next morning. “30 Minutes or Less” was funny, but I imagine that its effect on its viewers will probably last around 30 minutes, if not less.