Dir: Ruben Fleischer, Germany/Canada/USA, 2011, 83 mins
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Fred Ward
Review by Mark Byrnes
After his Oscar-nominated turn in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg reunites with the director of Zombieland for the disturbing action comedy 30 Minutes or Less.
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) bides his time as a pizza delivery driver, his biggest responsibility having to meet a 30 minute delivery deadline. Best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), a junior school teacher, berates Nick for his lack of ambition, but when he discovers his sister has been secretly dating Nick a falling out ensues. As Nick’s life begins to unravel he unwittingly becomes a target in the plans of aspiring criminal, Dwayne (Danny McBride), who plans to dispose of his disapproving father, The Major (Fred Ward) and claim an early lottery-won inheritance. Unable to stump up the money for a hitman, Dwayne and best friend Travis (Nick Swardson) kidnap Nick and force him to rob a bank on their behalf. With a bomb strapped to his body, which is set to detonate in several hours if he doesn’t deliver, Nick turns in desperation to his former best friend for help, knowing this is one deadline he can’t afford to miss.
30 Seconds or Less is nothing if not lean. Its 83 minutes zips along at such pace that it is only when the credits begin to roll that the uncomfortable aspects of the story begin to hit home. The film has already attracted controversy in America because of its similarities to a tragic bank robbery that occurred in Pennsylvania in 2003. While the film is not glib about its disturbing premise, it does play fast and loose with its humour at times.
Director Ruben Fleischer, who impressed with a more apocalyptic vision of the world in his debut Zombieland, clearly makes the most of modest means. Given his background as a pop promo director he surprisingly opts for a very de-stylised look, free of any flashy camerawork or CGI trickery. In that regard the film is almost a refreshing throwback in style to action movies from the 1980s – something the scriptwriters are also keen to acknowledge with references to Die Hard and Beverly Hills Cop.
Though Eisenberg is given top billing, Ansari, an established stand-up comedian and TV performer from Scrubs, is the real star of this slightly twisted, coming of age tale. His comic timing and straight-faced delivery feed nicely off Eisenberg’s suitably twitchy performance. Theirs is an easy rapport which is aided by some nice lines – one such early on allowing Eisenberg to make a humorous dig at Facebook. As to the other buddy pairing, Danny McBride does his usual good work playing the deluded, arrogant knucklehead, but one wonders if he ever seeks a move beyond this type of role. Swardson injects more sympathy than one would think the character is deserving of with his portrayal of the morally conflicted Travis. Michael Pena as the hit man unaccustomed to snags in his job and Fred Ward both nicely round off the cast. 30 Minutes or Less delivers what it promises, just don’t be surprised if there is a slight aftertaste.