Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Michael Diliberti
30 Minutes or Less reunites Jesse Eisenberg, fresh off his Oscar nominated performance in The Social Network, with sophomore director Ruben Fleischer. Fleischer’s first film with Eisenberg, and in fact first feature film as a director, was the 2009 hit Zombieland, which was able to bring a good cast together and create a funny spin on the horror genre, not unlike what Shaun of the Dead did. This time he is back with another good cast to put a funny spin on the bank robbery film. But this isn’t even really a bank robbery film, I would classify it more as a kidnap comedy.
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a loser pizza delivery guy who likes to swindle kids and get high while hoping for a brighter future. He lives with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), who is more successful than Nick. Chet was a substitute teacher, but has recently landed a full time gig. Their relationship become strained when it is revealed that Nick slept with Chet’s younger sister when they graduated. But the two must team back up when Nick is kidnapped by two even bigger losers, Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), who strap a bomb to Nick and force him to rob a bank for $100,000. They need the money to pay a hit man (Michael Pena) to kill Dwayne’s father (Fred Ward) so he can inherit his lottery winnings and start an illegitimate business with a stripper.
If the plot seems a bit ridiculous, it’s because it is, but Fleischer has experience with this type of film, coming off the success of the zombie comedy that was Zombieland. This time the film is a little bit more grounded in events that could potential happen, even if it seems far fetched. But that reality is what makes the film work in the manner it does. The psychotic stupidity of Dwayne and Travis is handled really well, bringing out the funny, as well as the truly tense and threatening. The masks they wear help, but Fleischer shows a steady hand behind the camera of the more tense scenes.
Eisenberg and Ansari have great comedic chemistry on screen as a sort of odd couple whose friendship is on the rocks, but also being tested by the highest stakes: a bomb and a bank robbery. McBride and Swardson on the other hand left me a bit disappointed. They are funny to be sure, but I feel weary witnessing yet another over the top, immature performance by McBride. What I once found extremely funny has become a little too tried and true for my tastes. But the real standout here is Michael Pena, who plays the overly stereotypical Hispanic hit man perfectly. The caricature is hilarious thanks to Pena’s great comedic timing and over the top reactions.
The film does exactly what it needs to do and gets out. It sets up the ridiculous, followed by the ridiculous resolution. The 83 minutes seems perfectly suited to such a tale. Not too much time is spent on the characters, but enough to make the film feel threatening and true, including the romance between Nick and Kate, Chet’s sister. All the little notes are hit, but the plot and screenplay don’t exactly make this the next Citizen Kane. Instead we are treated to another solid comedy from Ruben Fleischer, whose next film, The Gangster Squad, a crime drama with a star-studded cast, definitely has me both excited and curious how he will handle a serious film.