The opening ten or so minutes of 30 Minutes Or Less filled me with dread. It’s a somewhat dull few minutes that sets up a series of not particularly likable characters — Nick (Jessie Eisenberg), a pot-smoking man-child who recklessly careens around Grand Rapids, MI delivering pizzas; Nick’s friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), a junior high school teacher who’s still getting BJ’s from random girls in his car, Chet’s sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) a pretty girl who is pretty (there’s not much more to her part, unfortunately), and a pair of imbecilic slackers with mean streaks — Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson). All of the characters seemed to listlessly go through the motions of their derivative parts, cracking jokes that never quite managed to get me to do more than listlessly chuckle.
And then, something happened. The plot moved quickly to establish itself — Travis and Dwayne hatch a hairbrained scheme to con a poor sod into robbing a bank by strapping a homemade bomb to his chest and threatening to detonate it if he tampers with it or goes to the authorities. Nick, their hapless victim, enlists his friend Chet for assistance, and in the blink of an eye, 30 Minutes Or Less propelled itself into a frenzied, nonstop typhoon of madness. It transcended its drab opening and quickly became one of the funniest, cleverest and rowdiest movies I’ve seen this year. It was dumb as a box of rocks, but goddamn it, it was fucking hilarious.
It melds itself into a brilliant exercise in the absurd thanks to two things: brilliant action directing by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), and some truly inspired comic performances by its four main players — Eisenberg, Ansari, McBride and Swardson. None of them are flexing too much acting muscle — in fact, for the most part they’re different variations of parts they’ve played in the past. But their repartee is so rapid-fire ridiculous, with such easy, comfortable interplay and riffing with each other, that it doesn’t even matter. It’s four lunatics playing lunatics, and it works tremendously. It’s a filthy movie, replete with a steady stream of creative vulgarity and obvious improvisation, and that constant barrage of off-color and off-kilter humor sets the perfect tone for a plot that is inherently silly.
Eisenberg is a more dickish version of Zombieland’s Columbus, and his constant state of manic terror serves his particular style nicely. The real star is probably Ansari, whose panicked craziness alternates between explosive tantrums and frantic fits of fearful babbling. The malicious yet stupid McBride is a mean-sprited jackass with a tendency towards puffed-up proclamations of manliness interspersed with a coward’s braggadocio, while Swardson delivers a painfully spot-on performance as the bumbling, sycophantic sidekick. There are other players who have their moments of sheer, psychotic hilarity — namely Dwayne’s assholeish, hard-nosed father, played by Fred Ward, and a wickedly menacing hitman played by Michael Peña, but the main foursome get the lion’s share of the laughs.
Fleischer’s taste for madcap action is on full display here. Removed from the insane zombie genre, he instead delivers a heist picture busting with idiots, and the action reflects that. Filled with surprisingly breathtaking car chases, homemade weapons, some absolutely shocking violence — I don’t mean gory or disturbing, I mean when it happens it catches you completely unaware — it starts out at a breakneck pace and doesn’t let up. Between the constant stream of profanity-laden dialogue and the utterly maniacal action pieces, 30 Minutes Or Less barely gives one a chance to register what the fuck just happened before it rampages into the next scene.
30 Minutes Or Less lacks the heart and charm of Fleischer’s absolutely brilliant Zombieland; it has neither the soul nor the sweetness of its zombie-laden predecessor. Instead it’s almost a showcase for what the actors and the director can do (be riotously funny and crash into things really well, respectively). It’s a film that’ll need to be seen a couple of times just to give you a chance to remember the goddamn jokes and to relive its bombastic insanity. It’s not a story so much as it’s a pastiche of every ridiculous idea the cast, writers, and director had, all ingeniously slapped together with a frenetic energy that elevates it well beyond the realm of reality. It’s big, loud, occasionally stupid, and far exceeds its tepid introduction. It’s gonzo crime and comedy, with no purpose other than to entertain. It fulfills its purpose gloriously.