MOVIE REVIEW: 30 Minutes or Less
In Hollywood, complete artistic freedom doesn’t guarantee great results. When filmmaker’s are given free rein over big-budget productions, raging egos can run rampant, creating a film primarily for the artists themselves as opposed to the general audience (I’m talking about you, Oceans 12.) There was a hint of such self-indulgence in Ruben Fleischer’s glowing Comic-Con speech discussing the artistic leeway he obtained from Columbia Pictures while making his new action comedy, 30 Minutes of Less. Fleischer’s overly giddy praise for the experience made the film seem like the perfect sophomore effort after his horror/comedy hybrid, Zombieland. But overconfidence like this can be a troubling sign, especially in the case of a relatively new film artist. Sadly, it seems Fleischer has hanged himself with all that creative rope.
30 Minutes or Less begins swiftly, with pizza delivery slacker Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) racing through a suburban neighborhood running stop signs and nearly running over toddlers and soccer moms alike. A strange insert shot of an American flag waving in the wind suggests a lingering nationalism; something Nick’s disturbing man-child presence can’t fully appreciate. The rushed opening credits establish Nick as fleet-footed and dynamic, but his moral character is almost always in question. One minute he’s conning two kids out of the money they owe him for the pizza, the next he’s crushing on his best friend Chet’s (Aziz Ansari) beautiful sister. Comeuppance comes in the form of a terrible act of fate. While delivering food to a deserted industrial yard, Nick gets kidnapped by two bumbling goons (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), who strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank for $100,000.
Nick’s ensuing race against time (10 hours and counting…) has more stops and starts than most romance films. Much of the narrative twists are just meant to kill time, allowing Eisenberg and Ansari the temporal space to argue incessantly about the tense situation they’ve found themselves in. Multiple action movie titles are referenced (a la the excellent Hot Fuzz), but many of the shameless genre plugs are neither funny nor organic to the story. One sequences does offer some pure meta-entertainment: the brazen bank robbery, jump-started by an accidental shooting, riffs on the controlled chaos of Point Break’s great climactic action sequence with loving lunacy. It's mostly a drop in the bucket though.
There's also a vulgar and mostly asinine side-plot between McBride and Swardson hinting at a tense homoerotic relationship suppressed by years of antagonism and frustration. But that would be giving Fleischer a bit too much credit, since he fails to create any kinetic momentum or subtext in a film dependent on the energetic movement between point A and B. When Chet finally screams “What should we do now," its like he’s screaming at Fleischer for the next logical narrative direction. An answer never comes.
Considering the film’s kidnapping plot and focus on small-time criminals, I couldn’t help but wonder what Joel and Ethan Coen’s version of 30 Minutes or Less would look like. It’s likely the Coen’s would have instilled a sense of dread and humanity in this frenzied modern world. Fleischer’s middle-brow treatment is maddening because it does just the opposite, inexplicably toeing the line between mainstream comedy and black humor and turning completely toothless when it should be nasty and lively. The dumb action-packed ending only verifies what has long been clear: 30 Minutes or Less lacks smarts, a sense of humor, and a backbone to boot. Unfortunately, it won’t be the last time total creative freedom gets flushed down the proverbial toilet.
Official movie site: www.30minutesorless.com