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30 Minutes or Less

August 14, 2011

In 2007, 40-something year old pizza delivery driver Brian Wells robbed a bank with a bomb attached to his neck. He did it partly against his will in an attempt to get money for a fellow accomplice to kill the father of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong in order for her to receive the inheritance. According to reports Wells was initially under the assumption that the bomb was a fake while he was supposed to act as if three men attached the bomb to his neck if caught by police. However, before the robbery Wells discovered the bomb was real and attempted to escape but was forced by his accomplices to go through with the plan. The event ended with Wells being captured by police as he explained that the bomb was real and ticking. Cameras caught as Wells sat on the ground in front of a police car asking officers why they weren’t taking him seriously as the bomb was on a time limit. A short while later the bomb exploded blowing Wells to bits.

Now imagine seeing this story on the big screen in comedy form – yeah it’s pretty odd. Screenplay writer Michael Diliberti takes the gruesome story and puts a spin on it in 30 Minutes of Less, instead focusing on the antics of Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a pot smoking, lazy pizza delivery driver and how his path crosses with two dimwitted, pyromaniacal losers Dwayne and Travis. The son of a wealthy Marine Major, Dwayne (Danny McBride) constantly deals with his father’s callous and demeaning tirades over his son’s lack of success. Tired of being disrespected and determined to reach his full potential Dwayne is convinced by a stripper to hire an assassin, Chongo (Michael Pena), to kill his father so that Dwayne will ultimately receive the inheritance. Enticed by the idea, Dwayne and his best friend and business partner Travis (Nick Swardson) decide to kidnap Nick, strap a bomb to his chest and force the poor dope to rob a bank for them. Nick has 10 hours to successfully rob the bank and deliver the money to the men before the bomb explodes while also having to come to grips with his own mistakes and shortcomings. Did I mention this was a comedy? Because it is.

30 Minutes or Less has probably one of the best casts I’ve seen on screen in a while. Depending on your sense of humor, McBride, Swardson, Pena, and Aziz Ansari are arguably four of the greatest character actors and comedians of this generation and this film reveals to viewers why. Much of their scenes are obviously improvised but hilarious nonetheless. Desperate for help, Nick seeks an accomplice in his childhood friend Chet, an elementary school teacher played wonderfully by Ansari. Although Ansari isn’t the best actor, in fact he’s mediocre at best, his comedic chops are strong and he has great screen presence making every scene with him entertaining. In one scene, Chet admits to Nick that he will help him rob the bank only because he fears the guilt that may arise in the future if Nick dies from the bomb. Ansari owns the scene as he begins to ramble on in explicit detail about how the thought would resurface at a family picnic with his future wife and children causing him to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and further negatively affecting his relationship with them.

Eisenberg and Swardson are equally great as Nick and dimwitted but semi-moral Travis, but its McBride and Pena that own the film. Although Pena is only featured for about 20 minutes or so, his performance as the rough, ruthless, yet soft-spoken gangster is hysterical and he’s responsible for much of the film’s most memorable and funniest scenes. McBride on the other hand is both a riot and creepily menacing. He captures the essence of Dwayne so well that I was genuinely disturbed because he makes Dwayne too real; a freeloader with little intellect who’s tired of the world beating him up so instead he has no problem with taking advantage of those around him just as long as his hands don’t get dirty. Dwayne’s the type of guy who watches 3D versions of Friday the 13th while vulgarly and explicitly describing to Travis the ways he would sexually degrade Jason into submission. McBride is hilarious in the role but is so good at being a heartless and menacing degenerate that at times it was creepy to watch as his portrayal reminds viewers that people like his character actually exist in the world. When Nick questions why they are doing such an act to him, Dwayne responds “why does anyone do fucked up shit to each other? For money,” a sad but true sentiment.

Whether it was intended or not, 30 Minutes or Less made me feel uncomfortable, however, that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing. It’s a bit of an odd film because it’s marketed as a comedy and while the lawlz are definitely and frequently present the contrived drama is its major focus. At times the film even plays out like a sitcom without the laugh track, making some scenes and jokes a bit awkward to laugh at and too forced such as a fight that happens between Nick and Chet over Nick’s relationship with Chet’s sister. There were also moments where I found myself abruptly stopping a laugh mid-joke due to some of the lines being delivered in just plain bad taste. In one scene Chongo leaves a car where a stripper is inside and comments to her, “stop talking about your uncle touching you already. He touched you, it’s over deal with it.” I get it, it’s a joke of the stereotype that all strippers were molested, but come on.

Despite it’s at times overt crassness and its ability to actually creep me out, 30 minutes or Less is a great film and everyone in it pulls their weight. Director Ruben Fleischer impressively creates an action packed drama that’s full of surprising moments and great laughs throughout. If you’re a fan of anyone in the cast or at least in your twenty’s I can’t imagine not enjoying 30 Minutes or Less. Some of the acting is very subpar (coughAzizcough), the subject is overtly dark and at times its offensive for the sake of humor but overall it’s an engaging and funny film. In a nutshell, 30 Minutes or Less is kind of like if Gus Van Sant’s Elephant had a baby with David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express.


SEE IT. If anything for McBride, Swardson, Ansari, and Pena.

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