Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on Jesse Eisenberg. If Eisenberg doesn’t rob a bank and get a hundred thousand dollars for Danny McBride, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?
No, this is not Speed 3. A UB40 concert on a 20mph ocean liner killed off the possibility of that threequel. Rather, this is 30 Minutes Or Less, a film whose plot owes more than a passing resemblance to a piece of classic 90s action cinema, but whose heart lies in the decade before it. Barely seconds in, and we’re already being treated to a Ferris Bueller homage.
Director Ruben Fleischer’s first feature, Zombieland, was big on concept (it’s the end of the world… and that’s actually quite a fun thing) and commendably laid back in approach. His follow up does the first part again, but throws the second part out, with a bomb strapped to its chest, images of extreme violence, and a big two fingered salute. Subtle is not on the menu this time around.
Although based on a true story (only in America!), 30 Minutes Or Less has the kind of high concept plot Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer would have drooled over, right before putting Tom Cruise in a movie where he has to fly or drive something that goes really fast.
It also mimics the character-genre dynamic of Zombieland – Jesse Eisenberg’s perennial 80s-style slacker is forced to up his game when he’s thrust into a genre his character shouldn’t really find himself in. Instead of a Romero zombie film, it’s a buddy action film this time around.
And it’s in his characters that Fleischer’s real skills as a filmmaker lie. 30 Minutes Or Less is hardly original (see Pineapple Express), has moments where the plot seems to just stop, take a breath, and trundle half-heartedly to its conclusion (“Oh yeah, we’ve got to do the stand-off thing!”), and messes up its musical cues (it breaks out a classic 80s movie tune far too early).
And yet, for all that, it’s a film that’s as funny as you hope it will be. And that’s all down to the characters: Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari’s warring room-mates, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson’s dastardly but not-quite-with-it criminal masterminds, and Michael Pena and Fred Ward stealing the film from under them.
Ward, especially, is having a ball here. He seems to have spent the last decade consigned to some casting agent’s hate list, let out of the house to play the curmudgeonly dad in comedies that are either not funny (Sweet Home Alabama) or funny but don’t give him more than a few lines and the odd glare (Road Trip).
And Pena makes the most of his limited time by displaying everything Danny Glover taught him in Shooter – add a lisp to your violent character, and you’ll make him instantly funnier.
McBride does his usual shtick – an arrogant man-child who’s all inflated self-worth – yet it’s made funnier by Swardson and his inspired downplaying of the sidekick role. Their “That’s what she said” back and forth is worthy of an 80s-style pause-and-rewind moment to catch again and again.
Ansari makes the most of a rare ‘more than five minutes screen time’ role, making up for Eisenberg not really giving us anything he hasn’t before. His pizza delivery guy has the front of his Zuckerberg and the laid back charm of Zombieland‘s Columbus. Although adding some swear words in there helps – Eisenberg has a way of making everything innocent and sweet-natured, even references to Kevin Smith-style relationship issues.
And it’s a film that comes very close to living up to its name. It rushes through like it’s on its own pizza delivery clock – if you haven’t been entertained within 90 minutes, you can have your money back. Thanks to Pena, Ward and the rest of the cast, there’s no refund required.