“30 Minutes Or Less” tells the story of a pizza guy named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) who, after getting kidnapped by two hapless criminals, ends up with a bomb strapped to his chest with a ten-hour deadline to rob a bank or else (!). There’s more to it than that, but not really.
So Nick enlists the help of his buddy Chet (Aziz Ansari) on a series of errands and humorous mishaps en route to robbing the bank while on the other side, the criminal duo (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) endures misfires of familiar ilk.
For all the predictable elements in “30 Minutes Or Less,” what’s surprising is that despite its comic intentions, the story is still pretty disturbing.
Let’s get it out of the way: “30 Minutes Or Less” has drawn some criticism for making light of an almost identical, very real tragedy that happened in 2003 to a pizza delivery guy named Brian Wells, though he wasn’t afforded the Hollywood ending Nick gets.
Wells’ family expressed considerable disdain for the project and with good reason: the film’s premise seems unapologetically derivative of Wells’ situation. The filmmakers may have changed some things, but the most horrific aspects of the plot remain intact. Director Rueben Fleischer spoke adamantly that the film was not based on the true story. But the plot is more loyal to Wells’ story than many films that outwardly boast the “based on a true story” label.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think basing a comedy on a real-life tragedy is necessarily a doomed endeavor. Wrapping tragic events in humor is an important coping mechanism and that’s one of the reasons we go to the movies. It’s not offensive or disturbing if it’s funny, but it has to be funny.
The filmmakers seemed intent on rehashing the paradigm of “Pineapple Express,” a film whose charm came from the clashing of pothead banality with an overdriven Michael Bay-scale action plot. The humor came from the fact that the stoner protagonists had no idea how to respond when thrust into this exaggerated, absurdist plot. Their lack of composure and know-how was relatable and the result was refreshing and funny. It was set in a dark world, but it was always funnier than not.
In “30 Minutes Or Less,” there’s a similar dichotomy between relatable banality (pizza delivery job, no girlfriend, crappy car) and excessive Hollywood overdrive (guns, bank robberies, car chases, etc…). But the film fails to illustrate the clashing of these worlds with any of the wit, self-awareness or satire necessary to clout the disturbing reality of the story.
Though loaded with very talented and funny actors, “30 Minutes Or Less” suffers for its mediocre script and general lack of comedy. And the plot, left unsupported by humor, stands naked as the very unfunny story it is.