Money-back guarantees feel like such a remnant of the old economy — but maybe the dream of free slices scammed from overpromising pizza parlors springs eternal. At least that's the game being run on Jesse Eisenberg's downtrodden delivery boy, Nick, at the beginning of Ruben Fleischer's hypermanic 30 Minutes or Less — a comedy that knows it has to move with all due dispatch to keep from disappointing the customer.
After the red light–running Nick arrives late at his delivery, the pre-diabetic kids at the door refuse to dispense even a tip, and so Nick has to dupe them in turn to get paid. He manages this by offering to buy them beer, pocketing twice the cost of the food while swearing on his honor to return. It's a good reversal, since Nick, like Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg, is most compelling when he's scoping out others' weaknesses. The coup de grâce comes when Nick asks if the boys like O'Douls. "We love that shit," they gush as Nick departs. The movie's balance of trade is thus established: Scam or be scammed.
Meantime, on another narrative path, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson play Dwayne and Travis, a duo of even older going-nowhere types who, on the advice of a stripper, decide to off "The Major" — Dwayne's hard-ass, Lotto-winning ex-Marine of a dad — and live off the inheritance. Travis, a whiz at outfitting watermelons with explosives, wonders whether they're capable of killing. So they settle on hiring the stripper's hit-man acquaintance. When she quotes an up-front price of $100,000, Dwayne and Travis elect to raise the funds by kidnapping a patsy, strapping him into a C4-studded vest and giving him 10 hours to rob a bank. In approximately 30 minutes, Nick becomes that patsy.
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Despite its broad resemblance to a true-crime story, there are nearly 1 million logical leaps made in the course of setting up this Rube Goldberg device of a plot — but watching the film clear each one becomes its own goofy pleasure. Had the movie committed to its occasional acerbic tone throughout, it might have approached the inspired amorality of the Coen brothers. But instead Fleischer and Co. quickly retrench behind the emotional lines of standard-issue bro humor: The man-boys can't communicate except by delivering kidney punches and calling each other pussies, and yet male bonding is still one of the script's third-act goals. This sop to sentiment is disappointing from a movie that otherwise feels free to make a suicide vest into a comic device.
Relationships with women aren't exactly foremost in the filmmakers' minds, either. We're introduced to Chet (Aziz Ansari) in medias fellatio; the comic gets his first laugh by squirming when the girl goes in for a post-climax kiss. If you're a female character in the post-Apatowian world, you'll take what you can get.
It's the cashier at the Family Dollar store who trains the clearest eye on the boys' gender politics, when she asks if Nick and Chet want some condoms to go with their ski masks and toy guns. (Protection is on her recommended-purchase list for men who are about to "go rape.") She's a character from a more dangerous comedy that never materializes. Like his latest, Fleischer's Zombieland borrowed plenty of genre tropes, but paid them back with a self-aware wink. 30 Minutes or Less just takes the money and runs.
30 MINUTES OR LESS | Directed by RUBEN FLEISCHER | Written by MICHAEL DILIBERTI | Columbia Pictures | Citywide