“30 Minutes Or Less” is a high-concept action comedy that seems to be loosely associated with a series of real-life events in 2003 that had a not-so-happy end result. 46-year-old pizza man Brian Douglas Wells attempted to pull a bank robbery stunt in Pennsylvania with a bomb strapped to his neck and before authorities could approach him, the bomb killed him. The film has generated some controversy lately for making light of such a horrific tragedy and may be tough for some viewers to enjoy on that basis alone. After all, some of the parallels between the fact and fiction are conspicuously alike, whether the screenwriters (who were supposedly unaware of the 2003 occurrence) knew it or not.
But having said all that, I do believe I will be in the minority when I say that I found “30 Minutes Or Less” to be pretty hilarious and entertaining when you separate it from the Brian Wells story. I had a strange affection for the maniacally frenetic pacing that strikes a note that encompasses the spirit of “Horrible Bosses,” “Pineapple Express” and “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle.” It may not be as delightfully silly as those titles, but I still thought it was reliably fun. And just like said movies, it is not at all afraid to pull some spur-of-the-moment punches and tread into some truly dark comedic territory.
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is an insouciant pizza delivery guy who involuntarily becomes a pawn in a double felony: a bank robbery AND an assassination scheme conceived by two psychotic dullards named Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, respectively). These two work for Dwayne’s father (Fred Ward), an officious major general who lives off an affluent lottery winning he received, but are both officially fed up with taking his orders and cleaning his pool.
So after an eye opening night at a local strip club, they are given a brilliant (or at least they think so) plan by one of the strippers, Juici (Bianca Kajilich), to hire one of her hitman friends named Chongo (Michael Peña) to off the old man and take what is left of his fortune. But how do they go about getting the cash settlement for the killing, you may be asking? Well, they trap the poor unsuspecting pizza boy at his own game, strap a ticking time bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank for them in a very short distance of time. If the mission is not completed in time, they’ll have to hire some people to mop what’s left of Nick from off the street.
While you scratch your head and try to wrap your head around what a thoroughly inane idea this is, let me remind everyone really quickly about the recent fail of a comedy known as “The Change-Up.” If you read my review, you might remember when I said that the profanity felt forced and unnecessary simply because there was no significant reason why it was there. “30 Minutes Or Less” has equal to, if not more, obscenities than that other film, and given this one’s very short 83-minute running time, that’s gotta be saying something. But despite every possible word losing its shock value by the end, it is more appropriately suited for this comedy. Since the main characters’ societal affiliations consist of ‘white trash pyro-freaks’ and ‘young adults with a case of suspended development,’ the language is therefore more believable coming out of these characters’ mouths.
In a frenzied panic, Nick goes straight to his on-and-off best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) for help on what to do, and after much forethought, they come to the conclusion that the crime must be done if Nick wants to make it into his thirties. Dilshad Vadsaria shows up intermittently as Chet’s twin sister and a girl whom Nick had a brief fling with once before, and as inconsequential as she is to the final product, she is the only character who is not painted as a dimwit. Even the hostages of the bank robbery do not have much common sense, but then again, neither do the culprits of the crime.
I can surely understand why some people would be upset and offended by the correlation between the film and the fact, but I do not think the filmmakers’ objective was to cause a big ruckus. I could be wrong, but who can really know? I just look at it as a film: it is a hyperactive comedy with a warped moral standing and fatal consequences. It just happens to hit a little bit closer to life than, say, any of the stuff that happens in “Horrible Bosses.” I truly do not mean to be callous about what actually happened in Pennsylvania, but I think if “Inglourious Basterds” can have campy, liberating fun with a time and setting as gruesome and dreadful as World War II, then this shouldn’t be taken seriously for what it’s worth. It is just a movie after all.
Virtually impossible as it may be to call this film high-art, I cannot deny the fact that I laughed. A lot. Whether it was a fast-paced, high-energy car chase through the streets of Michigan, Chet’s pronouncement of Nick’s adulthood or lack thereof (“You had a Lunchables for dinner!”), or Dwayne’s demonstration of a ‘that’s what she said’ joke that doesn’t make complete sense, I was onboard with Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up project to the bloody hilarious zomcom “Zombieland.”
Note: I did not stick around after the end credits, but I have since read that there is a post-credits ‘stinger’ for those patient enough to wait until the very end. If my research about the final scene is correct, do not even bother with it. It completely ruins the big payoff that happens before the credits.