When The Major (Fred Ward) won the lottery a few years ago, it made his life great. He bought a great house, a great home theater, an awesome negative-edge pool, and all the toys a man could possibly want. Unfortunately for The Major, you can’t buy a good son. Instead, he’s stuck with Dwayne (Danny McBride), who is as incompetent and lazy as The Major was driven during his career as a Marine.
While The Major has a great life, our hero Nick’s life is terrible. He’s a pizza delivery boy who spends all his time drinking beer and driving around in a battered, past-its-prime Mustang. He’s at odds with his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), he’s going nowhere in life, and he’s pretty much miserable whenever he’s sober. Then, one day, a delivery goes horribly wrong and he finds himself wrapped up in Dwayne’s hair-brained scheme to knock off a bank to kill off The Major and get that inheritance that’s due him.
Of course, Nick wouldn’t rob a bank for someone else out of the goodness of his heart, so Dwayne’s best friend Travis (Nick Swardson) comes up with a brilliant idea: strap a bomb to Nick’s chest and if he doesn’t rob the bank, kaboom. Now it’s up to Nick to get $100,000 and somehow not get blown up or shot or otherwise injured in the process. Sounds tricky, but if anyone can do it, it’s the guy that invented Facebook.
Director Ruben Fleisher has proven himself to be adept at handling genre mash-ups (see: Zombieland) in the past, but the mix of comedy, action, and drama is less compelling this time around. If you can say anything about him, it’s that Fleisher knows his way around an action sequence, and he’s also quite good at handling dialog-heavy comedy scenes. Still, it’s a rough mix and kind of scatter shot in a way that Zombieland wasn’t.
As for the cast, it’s got some great people: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson as the principles, and even a brief role for Fred Ward, who looks great given his age.
On the surface, it looks as though the movie would be hilarious. While it does have some funny moments, it’s just not funny enough. The fact that I have to buy Jesse Eisenberg as a dope-smoking pizza delivery slacker is a pretty tough stretch after seeing him play hyper-intelligent nerdy-types. Aziz Ansari gets some very funny moments, but he gets to be a bit shrill after awhile. As for Swardson and McBride, their villainous characters have some briefly funny moments, but McBride’s Dwayne is just too flat-out evil to be too funny, and this is coming from someone who is usually a fan of his.
The casting is a stretch, to be sure, but another problem is the script. The screenplay, from Michael Diliberti (and Matthew Sullivan), just isn’t as clever as it probably could have been. It’s a pretty straightforward plot with the requisite double- and triple-crosses, but it seems to be really violence-heavy in a way that doesn’t inspire laughter.
It’s a little too violent; while it’s slapstick-style violence in spirit, The Three Stooges didn’t bleed or die. The blood isn’t the issue, it’s the death. It’s not funny, cartoony death like in Pineapple Express, it’s unpleasant death. In order for mayhem to be really funny, it has to be over-the-top, and this just doesn’t reach that level.
In fact, that’s the most apt description of 30 Minutes Or Less. It has potential to work, but it just never comes together. It has some great pieces to work with, but you can’t build a table without nails or glue, and 30 Minutes Or Less just doesn’t have the script to put it all together and get the most out of building blocks. Color me very disappointed.