30 Minutes or Less is, on paper, a film that fits comfortably with the current Hollywood zeitgeist. Starring ‘it’ boy of the moment, Jesse Eisenberg, and directed by Ruben Fleischer, the man who gave us Zombieland, it seems like a recipe for success. But while it throws around a few interesting ideas and twists, it’s let down by poorly written dialogue and some tame supporting performances.
30 Minutes or Less follows best buddies Nick and Chet (Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari) who get forced to rob a bank by a pair of semi-moronic, gorilla-mask-wearing criminals, (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). With a timed bomb strapped to his chest, Nick is thrown into a world of car chases, guns and hitmen, while at the same time trying to win over the heart of Chet’s beautiful sister.
The film starts off decently, with Eisenberg’s dry, but intense, style of acting carrying things forward. McBride and Swardson also make a good comical criminal pairing, with their characters’ petty power struggles adding some depth to their bro-mantic relationship. Similarly, the dynamics between Nick and Chet are spiced up after Nick informs his pal that he’s fallen for his sister.
Before long, the action seemingly commences as Nick and Chet are dragged into the criminals’ plans to rob $100,000 from a bank. Yet it’s here that the film comes undone. What should be the climactic scene – the bank robbery – occurs too early on and is over and done with in under ten minutes. After this most anti-climactic of climaxes, the film’s intensity fizzles to the point that we almost forget that Eisenberg has a ticking bomb strapped to his chest. With the main scene out the way and the main characters leisurely driving between various generic locations, the film loses its sense of urgency.
The lack of action after the robbery scene is amended slightly by the shifting power dynamics between the goodies and baddies. Whenever it seems that Nick gains the upper hand against the crooks, they make a move that puts the ball back in their court, revealing them not to be as stupid as they first seem. Throw a military, overbearing father and an angry assassin into this struggle, and the film becomes a potential smorgasbord of twists and turns.
While the film delivers on back-and-forth power struggles and twisty twists, these are made redundant by poorly written dialogue that fails to bring the best out of naturally comical actors like Eisenberg and McBride. For a comedy, it’s chronically devoid of laugh-out-loud moments, with the sight of Eisenberg in a pizza-boy outfit probably being the best of a bad bunch.
30 Minutes or Less is by no means an awful film, but the cinematic knack that Fleischer showed with Zombieland is overruled here by a screenplay that can at best be said to ‘have its good moments.’ Despite this, Eisenberg’s unorthodox acting is always intriguing to watch, and manages to add a certain mystery to his character that the script alone fails to. Nevertheless, the clichéd dialogue and ant-climactic action sequences make this a film that doesn’t do justice to some of the talent involved in it.