30 Minutes or Less
by George Sax
The four people I randomly and idly approached at last week’s preview for 30 Minutes or Less had never heard of the Erie, PA incident that seems to have inspired the movie. That incident, which resulted in a guy getting blown up by a bomb on a vest he was locked into, wouldn’t seem to be obvious material for a Hollywood juvenile-jerk comedy, and 30 Seconds hasn’t managed to buck the odds.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as a hapless pizza delivery guy in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is overcome by two near-brainless would-be master criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and ordered to rob a local bank of $100,000, or get annihilated by remote control. They want the money to hire an assassin to get ride of McBride’s millionaire lottery winner father (Fred Ward in a thankless cameo).
As I said, this may not be the most promising comedic pretext in recent movie history, but it probably offered some possibilities. 30 Minutes doesn’t come remotely close to exploiting them satisfactorily. It’s a crude piece of work in more than one sense, even if by contemporary gross-out standards it’s pretty mild stuff. What’s really lacking is a wickedly witty take on its grungy settings and situation. The gold standard in bumbling criminal enterprise comedies is the 1950s Brit hit The Lavender Hill Mob with Alec Guiness (unwisely remade a few years ago with Tom Hanks). 30 Minutes’ basic tactic is to broaden and inflate its personnel and scenes so much the film could not possibly miss its targets. The characters are all cases of arrested personality, ambition and achievement. In this kind of doofus drollery, it becomes difficult to distinguish the infantile personalities of the characters from those of the filmmakers.
It scarcely warrants much consideration, but the film’s slapdash vulgarity takes it into tonal problems before it’s over. The jackass jocularity is almost casually interrupted by some brutal mayhem: one man lies dying after being gut shot and another is the victim of a flame thrower. Real fun!
If this is the best job Eisenberg could secure in the wake of his celebrated work in last year’s The Social Network, conditions in the ailing film industry may be even worse than we imagined.
Watch the trailer for 30 Minutes or Less
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