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Josh Reviews 30 Minutes or Less

In the new film 30 Minutes or Less, Jesse Eisenberg plays Nick, an affable though fairly hapless pizza boy.  Aziz Ansari plays Chet, Nick’s closest friend.  The two have been buddies for years, though Chet seems to have figured out his life (we can see that he has a steady job and a nice, clean apartment) in a way that the aimless Nick clearly has not.  But what finally threatens to drive a wedge between the two friends is Nick’s infatuation with Chet’s sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria).  Meanwhile, another pair of buddies are concocting a scheme that will turn Nick and Chet’s lives upside down.  Danny McBride plays Dwayne, a frustrated, gun-loving loser living in his father’s basement, while Nick Swardson plays his loyal follower, Travis.  Dwayne’s father, “the Major” (played by Fred Ward), is wealthy after winning the lotto, but he seems to have no interest in passing any of his money on to his son Dwayne.  Spurred on by a suggestion made by a topless dancer (Bianca Kajlich) with whom he is infatuated, Dwayne devises a plan to hire a hit-man (Michael Pena) to kill the Major.  How will he get the money to pay this hit-man?  By strapping a bomb to the chest of a sucker, who Dwayne can then coerce into ribbing a bank for him.  Enter: Nick the pizza-boy, and the movie is off.

When I was a kid, I remember there being a lot of action-comedies — movies like Lethal Weapon that were very funny, but that were also serious action films (rather than just farces).  It doesn’t seem to me that there are too many movies in that style these days, so it was fun to see a group of filmmakers make the attempt to create that sort of movie.  The way in which 30 Minutes or Less throws a lot of crazy comedy into what is, when you think about it, a pretty terrifying story (and one which seems to be based on a real-life event that ended with the poor pizza delivery man being killed), really caught my attention.  Though there’s no action in 30 Minutes or Less that’s on par with the Richard Donner-directed Lethal Weapon, the film is definitely cut from that type of cloth, and that’s a compliment.  (I haven’t seen Lethal Weapon in years, so I have no idea if it holds up, but I have very fond memories of that film from my youth.)

In a similar way, 30 Minutes or Less feels, to me, like the type of movie that The Pineapple Express wanted to be.  I quite enjoyed The Pineapple Express (click here for my review), but I did feel that film was a little overly-lengthy, and I didn’t have a lot of patience for the big action sequence at the end.  30 Minutes or Less, though, clocks in at only 83 minutes, and it’s a lean little film that zips along from start to finish.

Initially, the main draw of the film, and the thing that got me into the theatre, was the pairing of Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari.  I’ve been a big fan of Mr. Eisenberg for years now (follow the links to my reviews of Roger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland, and The Social Network), and Mr. Ansari has been knocking me dead for three years on the you-really-MUST-start-watching-it Parks and Recreation.  I loved the idea of the manic Mr. Ansari being paired with the measured, actorly Mr. Eisenberg, and the film delivers on that pairing in every way that I had hoped.  The movie gives the two actors plenty of room to bounce off one another, and my favorite moments in the film were mostly the interactions between those two.  Ansari and Eisenberg are very believable as long-time pals who have, over time, become quite different from one another, and it’s great fun seeing how the two characters react when they find themselves painted into an impossible situation.

Outside of the two stars, the film features a pretty small ensemble of actors, but everyone does great work.  I particularly enjoyed Michael Pena as the hit-man.  He’s only in a few scenes, but he dials up his intensity to eleven to enormous comic effect.  He’s a hoot.

Then there is the dependably-great Danny McBride.  In Dwayne, Mr. McBride has created another in a long-line of his sort-of-lovable but mostly scary losers.  Dwayne is such a bonehead that he’s easy to laugh at, but the laughs are of the somewhat nervous variety because it’s clear that this shut-in could actually do someone real harm.  This is the line that the film gleefully dances around — just how hard are we supposed to laugh at these events, when a) the movie takes pains to craft moments in which we’re supposed to believe that Nick and Chet are in genuine peril, and b) we know how this story ended in real life.  It’s a tricky game, and while there were one or two moments in the film that felt a little tonally off, to me, overall I felt the filmmakers walked that line fairly successfully.  I enjoyed the sense of tension that ran through the movie because of this balancing act.

30 Minutes or Less certainly isn’t the funniest comedy you’ll ever see, nor is it a really great action movie.  It’s something in between, and while I can see how that might be unsettling to some, I really dug it.  It also has a terrific final joke, which I think is so critical for a successful comedy.  It’s good to hit the closing credits on a laugh, and this film lands a big one with the final shot.  It’s worth a look.

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