30 Minutes or Less should have lived up to its name and ended after 30 minutes. Condensed into a short film, this might have been an enjoyable and funny experience. The jokes wouldn’t have to be stretched out, could be harder hitting, and we wouldn’t have to have failed character moments. It could have been a film just about a forced bank robbery and the hilarity during and after. Instead, we get about 30 minutes of funny and 60 that aren’t.
Jesse Eisenberg has the lead role as Nick Davis, a young adult who works as a pizza delivery boy. He has two friends, fraternal twins named Chet (Aziz Ansari) and Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). He hangs out with the former, and wants to date the latter. Near the beginning of the film, he has a fight with Chet, ensuring that later on, they’ll have to make up, probably not under the best circumstances. Sure enough, Nick is eventually kidnapped by a couple of slackers (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to him and tell him to rob a bank in the next 10 hours or else he’ll be blown sky-high.
The reason for the bomb and the bank robbery is more convoluted than it should be. The slackers want to kill a man so that one of them can inherit the money from the death. A hitman (Michael Peña) requires $100,000 for the murder, and to get it, they decide to force someone else to do it. What do they want the money for? Opening a tanning salon is on the top of their list, essentially rendering them the silliest villains in recent memory. But, hey, it’s a comedy, so I guess that works just fine.
You can probably guess exactly what’s going to happen up until after the bank robbery occurs. Jesse Eisenberg plays the same type of character frequently, and he’s the same here. He’s a fast-talking, kind of awkward young adult, and just by knowing the actor, you know more or less how it’s going to play out. After the robbery, things get a bit more surprising. The hitman shows up, everyone who is anyone gets involved, and soon enough, there are chase scenes, shootouts, and things get far more crazy than you would think going in.
Unfortunately, the 10-hour time limit is completely arbitrary, and the characters never feel rushed. If I happened to have a bomb strapped to my chest, and I had ten hours to rob a bank, I wouldn’t dawdle. The people in this film do, and even take their time once the bank gets robbed. There’s no sense of urgency, which definitely would’ve helped. I don’t understand why you would be cracking jokes when your life could go up in flames at any moment, but that’s what happens here.
And the jokes aren’t even smart-alack retorts, either; they’re just long, stretched-out jokes that are only intermittently funny. No sane person would be making them, but since the characters seem to know they’re in a comedy, they go for it. I understand why the villains are cracking jokes — they’re the ones holding all the cards, and not being bright is funny in and of itself — but for the two main characters that we’re supposed to be rooting for, it doesn’t all add up.
Nor do the rules. We’re told early on that if Nick happened to trip, the bombs could blow up. Anything could set them off, and he had to be super careful. Even the one who made the bombs confirmed that. It’s set-up to be a big deal: He had to be very quick, but also very cautious not to bump into anything. Other characters don’t even want to come close to him, lest they set off the bomb and get blown up themselves. However, over the course of the film, Nick is involved in a car crash and a fist fight in which he’s thrown to the ground hard (twice, I think). The bomb never goes off.
You might think that this happens because there is no bomb, and that the two morons trying to get the $100,000 just weren’t smart enough to build one. I thought this for a while, too, but it becomes clear enough that the bomb is real, and that the filmmakers just chose to ignore something that was previously made important. And yes, I notice these things when the jokes aren’t particularly funny and I looked for other methods to entertain myself.
I don’t know if I expected more, but I was disappointed by 30 Minutes or Less. It does have a couple of laugh out loud moments, but for the most part, it’s just dull. It’s more action-packed than it should be, taking away some of its credibility, and it’s also cliché and not terribly original. I guess making the lead a pizza delivery boy is a good idea as it ensures that he can drive well, but the rest of the film was a little too preposterous. And yes, I say that with the knowledge that a similar incident — a pizza delivery man walked into a bank with a bomb strapped to him — has occurred. The film was believable up until that point, too.
30 Minutes or Less is a mediocre comedy that works for maybe about a third of its running time. After that, it gets silly, unfunny, and becomes a bore. The characters don’t make a lot of sense, the plot is all over the place, and it felt like only a basic script was in place, and a lot of improvisation on both the part of the actors and filmmakers is what led to this film. It would have worked as a one-episode television show or perhaps a short film. With a feature-length film, you can’t just entertain an audience for 30 minutes. Or less.