Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Premise: A pizza deliveryman (Jesse Eisenberg) is captured by a pair of dimwitted criminals who strap a bomb on him to force him to rob a bank.
What Works: 30 Minutes or Less shows some skill in its photography and editing. The picture was shot by cinematographer Jess Hall, who has previously done impressive work on films like Hot Fuzz and Creation and Alan Baumgarten, who previously edited director Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, assembles those shots into some slick chases.
What Doesn’t: 30 Minutes or Less is one of the most effective examples of a film trapped by a bad script. Despite the achievements of cinematographer Jess Hall and editor Alan Baumgarten and the presence of director Ruben Fleischer and recent Academy Award nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg, 30 Minutes or Less is a truly awful film. Despite having a literal ticking clock plot device, the story is a disjointed mess that has no rising action and no tension. After the pizza deliveryman is saddled with a bomb he does not focus on the task at hand and what should be a razor sharp race against time in the style of films like Run Lola Run or 16 Blocks is an indolently paced series of pointless scenes that lack meaning or purpose. Even though 30 Minutes or Less only runs eighty-three minutes, it is padded with a series of pointless errands that have nothing to do with solving the protagonist’s problem. These scenes are clearly intended to give the characters some depth but the film fails at that and the most the film provides are protracted scenes in which annoying characters do stupid things. 30 Minutes or Less is over populated by underdeveloped characters and packed with crisscrossing subplots that are never resolved. The rapid cutting between these subplots only adds to the confusion and the film is progressively more frustrating to watch. It is also worth mentioning how unfunny this film is. 30 Minutes or Less is intended to be a dark comedy along the lines of Four Lions or Fargo but all the jokes fall flat. The film has none of the transgressive qualities essential to a dark comedy and it fails even at its attempts at broad comedy. Aside from all of the script problems, 30 Minutes or Less is also largely miscast. Although Eisenberg is a good actor he does not fit in this role. Some of this is a due to the baggage that Eisenberg carries with him from other films; it is hard to believe that the lead of The Social Network is a pizza delivery man (just as it is absurd to cast Meg Ryan as a helicopter pilot or Mark Wahlberg as a high school teacher). Eisenberg does not have the presence to play the character he is cast in here; he exudes too much intelligence and self-awareness to be the halfwit he is cast as in this film. The supporting cast isn’t any better and often worse. Nick Swardson and Danny McBride play the hoodlums putting Eisenberg’s character up to the heist and not only are they obnoxious in the way that McBride always is but they also manage to suck out whatever comic energy the film possesses.
Bottom Line: 30 Minutes or Less is a peculiar kind of terrible because it is so inexplicable. It is strange that so many talented people could work together to produce a film that is so incompetent, but nevertheless that is exactly what the film is.
Episode: #354 (September 4, 2011)