Jesse Eisenberg is quickly making a name for himself as a gawky not-cool Ferris Bueller style teenage lead. He hit his comedy high in Zombieland, also directed by Ruben Fleischer, and cemented that and other good work with a fantastic Oscar-nominated performance in The Social Network. But through it all, there was always a faint whiff of a lack of range, and you have to wonder whether Eisenberg has any depth in his locker? That won’t necessarily be a deal breaker for the young actor, but it will afford him the luxury of better roles if Hollywood ever gets sick of his The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth shtick.
No such diverse luck here though: Eisenberg plays very close to type, and carries off probably the most high-functioning stoner wastrel ever committed to film. He remains socially awkward, slightly wired and very weird, though this time out it doesn’t seem to be too much of an impediment to building meaningful relationships, provided he can get out of his own self-created, hazy funk.
He plays a pizza boy, Nick, surfing through life on a wave of marijuana and buoyed by his dead-end job (which naturally he hates), who is press-ganged into robbing a bank by two wannabe hoodlums, who strap a bomb to his chest and demand he steals them $100k so they can off one of their fathers and inherit his millions. Ridiculous? Clearly. Clever? Not quite. But it is at least spirited.
Eisenberg is joined in the playing to type stakes by Danny McBride, who apparently only ever plays lewd (though presumable sexually decrepit), repugnant oafs with such a poor self-image guage that he imagines his disgusting manner to be irresistible, and his current social trough to be a major injustice. Somewhat problematically for my enjoyment of said films, I generally dislike watching him on screen – I find his anti-charisma completely off-putting and his performances lacking in any traditional comic faculties.
Here he forms one part of the parricidal duo (the other half is played by Nick Swardson, whose own rap sheet reads like a guide to 2 star “goofy” comedy) who set about ruining Nick’s life to their own dastardly ends. The pair share a few good moments and there is a sort of vulgar chemistry between them, but their major problem is that the two just aren’t charismatic enough to really convince as action film villains, and not memorably funny enough to be larger than life comic villains.
So is 30 Minutes or Less another case of the dreaded inferior sophomore effort then? Well, as with most movies involving Danny McBride in anything but a minor role, 30 Minutes or Less is simply not as funny as it thinks it is. It isn’t exactly a terrible film, and there are some reasonably entertaining moments, but the overall film plays out not with a bang but with a hardly diverting whimper. Characters are too unlikable - even the ones we are supposed to root for – and none are fleshed out with even a semblance of a back-story, so all concerns are only surface deep and leave a similar depth of impact on the audience.
The rest of the main cast is made up of Aziz Ansari, who seems content to be making a career from playing cookie, crude friends of main characters, full of energy but without any kind of intelligent constraint. It is a shame, because he is eminently watchable – if it wasn’t for most of what comes out of his mouth, but then he doesn’t write the scripts, or decide when he should ad-lib.
Elsewhere we have a cameo-like appearance by Fred Ward as the over-bearing father figure in typically gruff fashion, another by Michael Pena as a very odd hitman called Chango (best part of the entire film), Bianca Kajlich as a scheming stripper and Dilshad Vadsaria as Ansari’s sister and the obligatory love interest.
The female characters are barely worth a mention, because their inclusion seems to have been an afterthought conceived as the vehicle for two plot mechanics and neither is given anything like the required screen-time or focus to leave any kind of lasting impression.
The plot is completely ridiculous, but that wouldn’t be a problem if the content bridging the fundamental details was particularly good. So it’s a shame that the plot verges on terrible in places, believing far too vehemently in the supposed trump card of those scenes built on banter and the chemistry between characters. But really, those scenes are no more than puerile exchanges; vulgar insults designed as ugly one-upmanship, but without the really colourful and clever profanity that is the really necessary ammunition in those type of situations.
Pacing is unfortunately an issue – the whole thing ticks along at a nice pace, suitable to its action film aspirations, but for some reason the major events of the film, like the bank job and a later action sequence are poorly fleshed out and take up the bare minimum of screen-time, which feels like a composition mistake. If the same time is given to exposition as it is to explosions in an action film, you’re in the wrong genre.
There are moments of entertainment, but they are few and far between, and the frenetic pace of the film serves only to gloss over some serious cracks and at the final summary, it leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth.
It carries the Sony name, so there is little surprise that 30 Minutes or Less is another stunning blu-ray transfer. The image is almost perfectly crisp and clear, with few perceptible flaws, and a brilliant attention to details and textures, but also with a pleasing filmic grain throughout that actually adds to how good it looks. Colours and skintones are nice and natural, and black-levels are wonderfully precise.
The audio is as good, if not better than the visuals: the soundtrack shines, beautifully clear and immersive, and sound effects are bombastic and proud. The levels between action scenes and quieter, dialogue-led scenes vary perfectly, and ambient noise is present and vibrant for the entire track.
In short, another very strong high-definition package from Sony.
It’s not a good sign when the outtakes aren’t even slightly funny. Strictly speaking, what is included under the outtakes banner is in fact what would usually be called something tacky like Line-O-Rama, with alternative ad-libbed lines from three scenes in the film. It’s all completely needless, because not only is it a criminal waste of disc space (not a single smirk raised) but it shows that Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson can’t produce a funny ad-lib between them in multiple attempts. Way to undermine the acting “talent”.
The rest of the package is made up of a picture-in-picture commentary, which is a poor use of the feature since it only offers the cast and director sitting in front of microphones, and provides almost exactly the same service as a straight audio commentary track. Still it’s quite enjoyable to watch the commenters riff off one another and react as they share set anecdotes and technical notes.
There are then two featurettes, which are basically made-for-promo, and a collection of deleted scenes that added very little to the film. Not a lot to really get excited about.
- Picture in Picture Video Commentary with Ruben Fleischer, Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson
- Blowing Up with Cast & Crew of 30 Minutes or Less
- The Perfect Crime: Action & Comedy in 30 Minutes or Less
- Deleted Scenes