(by Dustin Putman
"30 Minutes or Less" is based upon the tragic 2003 true-crime case of Pennsylvania pizza man Brian Wells, who was allegedly forced to rob a bank with a bomb strapped around his neck, then was killed after it detonated. Director Ruben Fleischer (2009's "Zombieland"), first-time screenwriter Michael Diliberti, and studio Columbia Pictures can try to deny or deflect this fact all they want, but the proof is up there on the screen, its similarities too eerie and numerous to be coincidental. This is not some kind of investigative procedural docudrama like David Fincher's mesmerizing 2007 exposé "Zodiac," either, but a profane, gags-a'plenty action-comedy played predominately for raunch and giggles. Or so one would assume. The trouble is, "30 Minutes or Less" hasn't a solitary laugh to its name, the majority of would-be humor trading cleverness and comic timing for an avalanche of ugly sexual references and a lazy obsession with a particular four-letter word that is uttered over two hundred times in the span of 78 minutes. The other five minutes of the running time are devoted to the end credits, which are comparatively diverting. There isn't anything special about them, mind you, but even a standard white text crawl over a black background is preferable to the brainless, despicable, mean-spirited, irredeemable bilge that precedes it. Article continues below
Thirty-something slacker Dwayne (Danny McBride) has had enough of his hard-ass military father (Fred Ward) and wants him dead before he spends the remaining one or two million dollars left from his lottery winnings. Learning from a gold-digging stripper named Juicy (Bianca Kajlich) that she knows a man who will assassinate his old man in exchange for $100,000, Dwayne and slacker best friend Travis (Nick Swardson) concoct a scheme to strap a bomb onto an unsuspecting victim and force him to rob a bank. That victim in question is twenty-something slacker Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a pizza delivery man who now has nine hours to figure out how to pull off said robbery before he's blown to smithereens. With no one else to turn to, Nick enlists the help of his roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari), a middle school history teacher who, nevertheless, is kind of a slacker.
If "30 Minutes or Less" doesn't exactly sound like the height of wit and hilarity, imagine a worst-case scenario and then drop down one notch lower than that. Whatever director Ruben Fleischer was thinking, it must not have been much. His first feature, "Zombieland," was a riotous, rule-breaking horror satire of colorfully likable characters and shrewd inventiveness, while his second is akin to some kind of sick joke without a punchline. With the possible exception of Nick, who lacks aim but is mostly harmless, the characters are scourges of humanity with no hopes, dreams, ideas, or goals outside of murder, orgasms, and illegally striking it rich. There is nothing charming, nothing humorous, nothing amusing, and nothing noteworthy about them. They're boring, irritating, one-note creations with fewer brain cells than fingernails.
As the woefully misguided plot to nowhere presses on, the film frequently forgets it's even trying to be funny. With the clock—and bomb—ticking down, Nick grows ever more dismayed as he faces his own mortality. Once the afterthought of a bank heist is finished, there's no less than a deadly car chase and a kidnapping before shootouts take over. "I'm gonna put a bullet in that asshole's face!" warns ruthless assassin Chango (Michael Pena). Soon enough, people are brutally shot in the neck and in the stomach. One is beat over the head with a gun. Another person is lit on fire with a flamethrower and writhes around in agony on the asphalt. A bomb detonates in a car with likely fatal results. As the sobering violence heats up, there is not a second's regard for human life or the consequences of such horrid actions.
The only explanation for Jesse Eisenberg following up his Oscar-nominated role in 2010's "The Social Network" with a part that even David Spade would have second thoughts about accepting is his devotion and trust in a filmmaker who previously gave him his first major commercial success. Reading the script must not have been on his list of priorities, because there's just no way any value could be deemed from its pages. "30 Minutes or Less" is distasteful and putrid, so disillusioned and amateurish that it can't even be bothered to properly wrap up its loose plot treads. Instead, when it finally hits a brick wall, it simply gives up altogether and ends. "I just want this goddamn day to be over!" exclaims Chet midway through. He would have been wise to replace "day" with "movie."