Judge Clark Douglas prefers to rob people of their precious time.
A lot can happen in 30 minutes.
Kate: "You're late."
Facts of the Case
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network) is an ordinary slacker who holds a thankless job as a pizza delivery guy. His best friend is Chet (Aziz Ansari, Parks and Recreation), a local school teacher making a genuine effort to be more responsible at long last. Though they've been friends since childhood, Nick and Chet call things quits when Nick reveals that he has feelings for Chet's twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria, Greek). Shortly after, Nick is captured by Dwayne (Danny McBride, Eastbound and Down) and Travis (Nick Swardson, Just Go With It), two disgruntled small-time crooks hoping to kill Dwayne's father (Fred Ward, The Right Stuff) in order to collect a large inheritance. Alas, they need money to pay a local assassin (Michael Pena, World Trade Center) to do they job, so they strap a bomb to Nick's chest and tell him he has 10 hours to come up with $100,000. Desperate to survive this bizarre situation, Nick turns to Chet for help.
You may recall the story of Brian Douglas Wells, a pizza delivery man who attempted to rob a bank with a time bomb strapped to his chest back in the summer of 2003. He had been coerced into the crime by several other individuals, who were hoping to raise enough cash to put a hit on the father of one of the crooks. The similarities between that story and the one told in 30 Minutes or Less are quite striking, though the filmmakers claim that the movie is in no way inspired by the Wells story. If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you.
Even so, whether or not 30 Minutes or Less is based on a true story is insignificant; what matters is whether we've got a successful movie. Sadly, the answer is "not really." This is the sophomore effort of director Ruben Fleischer, who previously delivered one of 2009's more memorable comedies in the form of Zombieland. His first film was fairly entertaining, but the pleasant surprise was the level of emotional depth it contained. By the time the film was over, you genuinely cared about the characters and their survival. As such, the surprising thing about 30 Minutes or Less is how little emotional depth it contains. This is a surly, caustic comedy that doesn't deliver enough laughs to compensate for its generally mean-spirited tone.
Part of the problem is that equal screen time is given to the dimwitted thugs who force Nick to commit the crime. I generally regard myself as a Danny McBride fan (I even went to see the regrettable Your Highness in theatres), but it seems like every role he's taking lately is a watered-down variation on Kenny Powers and it's getting kind of old. McBride and Swardson don't have much comic chemistry together, and we grow weary of their cartoonish characters rather quickly. Their scenes should be perversely entertaining, but the uninspired acting transforms them into scenes which simply feel sour and profane.
The Nick n' Chet side of the film is markedly better, but still doesn't work nearly as well as it ought to. It's clear that Fleischer is at least making an effort to inject some humanity into this section of the film (albeit in a typical, bromance-y sort of way), but never really manages to sell it. 30 Minutes or Less is more interested in laughing at its unfortunate characters than allowing us to empathize with them, and it's not smart enough to get away with that. Eisenberg once again demonstrates crackerjack comic timing, but seems miscast as a slacker who would prefer to just sit around and watch Lethal Weapon movies all day.
The DVD transfer is exceptional, boasting very impressive detail and rock solid black levels. It's one of the stronger standard-def transfers I've seen lately. Audio is also sturdy, with a handful of aggressive rock tunes and a couple of explosive sequences making the biggest impression. Supplements are lightweight: some deleted scenes, outtakes and an EPK-style featurette called "Blowing Up with the Cast and Crew of 30 Minutes or Less" (14 minutes). The Blu-ray version contains a picture-in-picture commentary track and an additional featurette not included on this release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a few genuine laughs scattered throughout the movie; little zingers which give us an idea of how much fun this could have been if Fleischer had been on his A-game. For all the problems it has, this is still noticeably more enjoyable than the average Adam Sandler or Katherine Heigl comedy. Additionally, with a running time of only 83 minutes, 30 Minutes or Less certainly doesn't overstay its welcome.
30 Minutes or Less fails to live up to the promise of either its rich premise or its impressive cast. Here's hoping better things are ahead for all involved.
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