Nick: 2011 has been a remarkable year for comedy, particularly of the R-rated variety. Not all of the film have been great but as a collective it’s a really special crop of films. Almost all the major food groups of today’s comedy scene are represented and 30 Minutes or Less arrives on the tail end of the summer with its own contributions. Sporting reliable comedy names like Jesse Eisenberg and Danny McBride as well as director in Ruben Fleischer who has shown considerable comedic chops the film certainly has its moments but ultimately feels like a victim of not enough seasoning.
Renn: It’s definitely one of those films where you’ll keep asking yourself, “why am I not enjoying this more?” The actors are all great, the plot is quirky and original enough to be fun, and there’s nothing especially insulting about the brisk plot, but… insubstantial is the word that comes to mind. Scenes are funny, but never hilarious. Individual lines are amusing, but rarely remarkably funny. The movie is well shot, but every scene of action or banter feels like a match that is struck over and over, never catching and lighting up. There’s a flatness that escapes being boring by virtue of pure charm, a strong laugh here, a cute song choice there. But it’s a shame Fleischer pulled back from tackling a more ambitious project after Zombieland, as now I’m concerned that exceptional zombie comedy may have been a fluke.
Nick: Fluke may be too strong a word. I believe Ruben’s the real deal but this feels like a film that would have benefited from the polish and visual assistance Zombieland rather than the analog ‘Midnight Run’ vibe they were aiming for. This feels like the Due Date for star and director. A digestif between stronger efforts. Whenever a movie that isn’t geared for children that doesn’t crest 85 minutes arrived, all sorts of red flags go up. I don’t know what led to the rough around the edges vibe of 30 Minutes or Less, but regardless all we can go by is the finished product. That finished product just isn’t substantial. There’s no performance that carries it. There’s not enough merit to the relationships. It veers into terrain that requires a killer instinct and then doesn’t commit to them. There are some violent acts here but the film doesn’t own up to them. It’s as if the filmmakers want us to get the visceral nature of the events in the film but not see the end result. A couple of characters are put into mortal danger and the movie never shows the outcome. These are characters we’re supposed to be invested in. Were they rushed? Were they lazy? Were efforts made to take some of the bite of the darker aspects of the story? Who knows?
There’s some controversy about the potential source events that the filmmakers refuse to own up to, and one wonder’s what drove everyone involved. There’s no biting satire, and it’s not really a dark comedy, but it has some rougher elements that make it just a touch too edgy to be a run-of-the-mill high concept comedy. So Aziz Ansari has some great one liners (that mostly feel culled from tons of improv), Jesse Eisenberg is neurotically competent at leading a comedy, and Danny McBride does the things that have made Danny McBride successful so far. That’s about it. After a summer of borderline classic comedies, this isn’t even a punctuation mark on the batch, but more of an ellipsis… Considering the details are already beginning to slide off of my brain, I can’t imagine it’s going to strike too strong of a nerve in anyone.
Nick: I find Aziz Ansari to be grating for most of the film. I get his schtick, and though I’m not a big fan it’s projects like this that tend to open one’s eyes to the comedic gifts of a performer. None of that came through here. Eisenberg’s good but once again, there’s so much his character has to do to serve the plot it doesn’t allow for him to really shine. These unlikely friends have very little to showcase why their friends, what their friendship is, and why one would risk his life for the other. It’s just undercooked. McBride is another guy who is always good at his thing but Your Highness and Eastbound and Down in a calendar year is a lot of that one thing and he never gets too dark and dirty or too likable for the character to feel fresh. Nick Swarsdon’s another comedy brand I have never seen any value in and here he has the task of humanizing the bad guys when the story needs him to, being a yes man when the story needs him to, and doing bad deeds when called upon. For a generic comedy that’s acceptable but not one with this much talent involved. There’s not a character who makes a resonant impact, which immediately distances it from the classic films it aches to be in the company of.
Renn: Even Michael Pena’s hilarious moments feel like recycled imitations of his Observe & Report role. The whole movie is slight, top to bottom. It’s a shame that the best can be said for the film is that it’s too short to wear out its welcome, but even the abrupt, 70s-style ending doesn’t work. They forgot that those classic films that had the balls to cut to credits the moment the story was done also typically managed to wrap-up all their loose ends.
Ultimately 30 Minutes or Less goes down easy, gets out before the schtick gets old, and leaves no impression at all. It’s a sophomore slump for director Ruben Fleischer, but inoffensive enough that I still look forward to whatever he puts together next.
Nick: It’s slight. Uneven. Forgettable. And with this group of folks, unforgivable. How the heck do you waste Fred Ward?
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars