“30 Minutes or Less”
DIRECTED BY: Ruben Fleischer
STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson
SHOWING: Area theaters
In the brief 83 minutes of Ruben Fleischer‘s second feature film, “30 Minutes or Less,” the director manages to wash away the up-and-comer notoriety that he established with 2009’s stylized gore fest, “Zombieland.” That post-apocalyptic yarn may have seemed like a throwaway contribution to a revived stream of undead culture, but it was actually full of bright, brave action scenes, effortless punch lines and, dare I say, heart.
Fleischer’s past sensibilities have apparently been checked at the door in his current attempt at a slacker heist story. What’s all the more disheartening is the acting talent he manages to drag down with him on screen.
“Zombieland” actor Jesse Eisenberg stars as Nick, the story’s central underachiever. His life duties ebb from videogames to joint-fueled pizza delivery shifts and back to videogames. This well-established groove of laziness is undone when two wannabe criminals, played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson with their expected levels of bumbling stupidity, force him to rob a bank by strapping a bomb to his chest.
The premise is far-fetched but cinematically believable. Fleischer showed his ability to resuscitate worn-out filmic tropes with “Zombieland,” a story that was told throughout a wealth of b-movies. The narrative shell for “30 Minutes or Less” had the potential to be a doozy of a youthful heist film. The actual product, however, is unbearably mediocre.
The film is full of the now-commonplace brand of absurdist conversational comedy. Aziz Ansari plays Eisenberg’s straight-arrow cohort Chet, and he undeniably has a certain rapport with his buddy, but the comedic drivel that spews from their mouths never cultivates more than a chuckle.
Then there’s the spattering of homophobic and racially driven shtick of McBride and Swardson, two comedians who have built a repertoire out of this thread of hick-ish persona. While the two may fit the bill for these roles, their lazy lines only shine a greater light on the unsurprising casting choices. Writer Michael Diliberti takes the low road with a never-needed blend of gay jokes and “Slumdog Millionaire” one-liners.
Some of this comedic half-assery could have been rectified with Fleisher’s imaginative camerawork like the kind found in every scene of “Zombieland.” But Fleischer must have seen no need for any visually exciting or surprising moments. It’s something that turns this sugar-free bank robbery tale into a mass of wholly apparent plot holes.
It takes about fifteen minutes of screen time for Ansari and Eisenberg to prepare for the film’s central heist. It then takes them about the same length of time to actually rob the bank and outrun the police. The plot is so undercooked and unbelievable that the film’s final act flounders through similarly uninteresting loose ends. The most surprising part about the film’s conclusion is that law enforcement is never seen or discussed again.
It seems like Eisenberg followed Fleischer into the dark on this one, and it’s understandable as to why he did. “Zombieland” was a big-idea blast, and “30 Minutes or Less” looked to be the same way on paper. Even with Eisenberg and Ansari diligently trying to mine comedic nuggets from the script, the source seems to be exhausted.
1 and a half out of four
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