"30 Minutes or Less" might have been a lickety-split action comedy had its running time actually been 30 minutes or less.
Ruben Fleischer's movie runs a scant 83 minutes as it is, and that still gives his annoying, caffeinated characters plenty of time to wear out their energetic, promising welcome during the first act of a two-and-a-half act comedy.
"30 Minutes or Less"★ ★
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Fred Ward, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Pena
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Other: A Columbia Pictures release. Rated R for language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 83 minutes
Fleischer reunites with his "Zombieland" star Jesse Eisenberg in a project clearly intended to follow the model of the popular, quick and quirky undead horror comedy that works where this one does not.
Eisenberg brings his patented brand of nervous twitchiness to Nick, a slacker pizza delivery guy who drives like Burt Reynolds in a Hal Needham movie just to get the goods to the customer in under a half-hour.
As we see, he's not all that successful, despite burning the tire tread.
Nick's best friend Chet (the personable Aziz Ansari) has landed a job as a teacher. Despite taking a brave step into adulthood, Chet realizes his example is lost on Nick, who initiates incredulously childish, destructive fights that no normal friendship could withstand. (Chet takes responsibility for the divorce of Nick's parents; Nick tortures Chet with details of how he deflowered Chet's twin sister Kate, played by Dilshad Vadsaria.)
Meanwhile, across town (an upside-down squad car confirms it's Grand Rapids, Mich.) lowlife redneck Dwayne (Danny McBride, who now does this character on autopilot) lets a strip-teasing hottie talk him into hiring her hitman boyfriend to kill Dwayne's macho, ex-Marine dad (Fred Ward).
Dwayne wants to lay his paws on Dad's lottery winnings without waiting to inherit them. But he needs $100,000 to pay the assassin Chango (Chicago's own beefed-up Michael Pena).
So, Dwayne with his dull-witted sidekick Travis (Nick Swardson) engineers a plan to lure the pizza delivery guy to their hideout, strap a bomb to his chest, and force him to rob $100,000 from a bank within 10 hours -- or be blown to smithereens.
On paper, or at least on a Windows document, Michael Diliberti's screenplay passes for a raucous and ribald R-rated comedy with plenty of rough language, gratuitous nudity and shameless acts of comic stupidity to amuse us.
But Fleischer's heavy-handed direction turns "30 Minutes" into a shrill and superficial comedy that never allows its characters to become remotely sympathetic or tolerable for its ultrashort running time.
"30 Minutes" launches enough comic payoffs to keep the meager chortles coming. But this movie reeks of misogyny and homophobia, not in a cathartic manner, but in a cheap and couldn't-think-of-anything-clever-to-do way.
Vadsaria's Kate serves no purpose in the story other than to be kidnapped by Dwayne so that Nick follows through on the plan. And she's apparently the only "nice" girl in town, save for a female bank employee.
Ansari's strained charm doesn't convince anyone that his character would actually help his loser buddy rob a bank and jeopardize not only his teaching job, but his freedom. Especially after the nasty way he and Nick treat each other.
"30 Minutes or Less" was reportedly inspired by a real incident in which a man strapped a bomb to himself to rob a bank, and the explosive went off.
If only that had happened to Nick in 30 minutes or less in "30 Minutes or Less."