Make Up Your Mind is a movie review series that focuses solely on films whose tomato meters are between 40% and 60%. It’s an attempt to find a consensus on how good the movies actually are, because a critical split of 50/50 isn’t helpful. This time, it’s 30 Minutes or Less (2011), which currently sports a 44%, based on one-hundred sixty-two reviews.
30 Minutes or Less is the much-less-successful sophomore project of director and producer, Ruben Fleischer. Known for his first release, Zombieland (2009), Fleischer gained initial credit due to its insanely high critical perception. So, to keep consistent with his prior product, he once again looked to an action-comedy film, starring Jesse Eisenberg. Obviously, it didn’t pan out for the duo, receiving a very mixed critical perception, and only profiting around twelve million dollars. That being said, in a genre full of duds and busts, the movie does spawn several genuinely funny moments, and succeeds, despite difficult-to-balance pacing, and an initially-skeptical level of originality.
While the film’s plot surrounds another generic, young-adult male, everything is presented with a fun and engaging tone. The opening scene follows Nick (Eisenberg’s character) in his car, racing against the clock, to deliver a pizza in under thirty minutes. But instead of leaning on its star, and breaking immediately into exposition (much like the movies Superbad (2007), and Pineapple Express (2008)), it’s shot like an action movie; focusing on high-energy music, and enjoyable driving maneuvers. This, of course, juxtaposes the incredibly dingy, early ’90s Mustang driven by Eisenberg. It’s much like the opening scene from Baby Driver (2017), if instead of a souped-up Subaru, you were given a five-hundred dollar car.
This mood is consistent throughout the film, with normally-tense moments like bank robberies and gunfights, turned into more comedic, and less thought-heavy scenes. This, of course, is often a double-edged sword when used in films. If you skew too heavily towards the comedy side, and miss, it ruins the immersion of the film, but if you lean heavily toward the action side, it can lose its grasp on the more comedic elements. Despite that truth, this particular film manages it quite well, and accomplishes this almost entirely due to its premise. The mere fact that Nick is strapped with a bomb-vest, adds a slight tinge of anxiety and seriousness to each scene he finds himself in. It also, in many ways, gives him an excuse to act recklessly, so you don’t question why, in reality, none of this would happen. There should be no surprise that this tool finds itself in many other movies; often Cohen brother films; as it puts the story on a timer, so the thought can’t leave your brain.
Even with the added cushion of a decent idea from the writers, it’s still up to the actors and directors to make everything come together, and that’s where this movie finds its strength. Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari carry the often-questionable writing of this film, with two outstanding performances. Both play relatively normal people, in their mid twenties, who are now tasked with robbing a bank, and giving money to a hitman, to save Nick’s life. This ridiculous situation could have easily gone off track, and into fantasy land, but instead, both actors maintain your attention through real, believable character-struggles, in many instances. While incredibly trite and overdone, the scene of Nick confessing his love for Kate didn’t cause eyerolls or sighs. Instead, the strategic pauses, the visible sweat, and other additives made it one of the best scenes in the film.
Along with the large successes, do come noticeable drawbacks. As stated earlier, the writing here is not always the best. The first true scene we see of Chet (Aziz) and Nick together culminates into a fight that doesn’t seem believable. Even with the relatively strong acting of the partners, it comes out of nowhere, and explodes beyond belief. The idea that these friends, who have been together for years, would have this much hidden tension, isn’t realistic. It’s understandable what they were going for; piecing-together bits of exposition, and an inner drive for the characters; but it’s overdone. The scene is incredibly reminiscent of, again, Superbad. Much like Nick and Chet, Evan and Seth go through a falling-out phase, but it works due to the plot setup in the first two-thirds of the movie, as well as the focus on a singular issue. Instead, the writers decided to throw us into a relationship that hasn’t been developed on screen, and reveal tens of issues between the individuals.
Other examples of bad writing can be found throughout. Dwayne; the main villain, played by Danny McBride; has many of these instances. First, the idea that out-of-the-blue, the man would decide to kill his own father, is asinine. Then, as the movie continues, more of these very quickly-mentioned things develop in his character. Suddenly, he wants to open a tanning salon, as a front for a prostitute ring. And finally, at the very end, we’re given the one time in the entire movie where he acts like a good human, saving his best friend from burning to death. After eighty minutes of setting him up as the most immoral person, including toward his partner and friend, they scrap the direction for possibly a redemption arc? But even following that, he dies roughly two minutes later.
Though writing is the largest drawback, there are other problematic elements, often dealing with the cast. It shouldn’t be surprising, but the only female characters that play a large role in the film, are the love interest, and a stripper. Neither are developed in any way, aside from Kate’s relationship with Nick. And neither get much screen time at all. The “assassin,” or “thug” is portrayed as Hispanic, leaning heavily on stereotypes to define both his character and demeanor. The only thing this film could count as “inclusive” is the existence of Chet and Kate, being of Indian descent, and a single mentioning of a gay man. This disappointment comes for almost every film out there, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.
As a whole, 30 Minutes or Less is a quick and fun ride. With a relatively-fast pace, it breezes by in an instant, but not without a few laughs and some great acting. The movie exists between two separate narratives; one good (Chet and Nick), and one bad (Dwayne); but manages to outshine the bad parts with some clever moments. Though carried heavily by the duo of stars, Aziz and Jesse, it ends up being a more-than-passable comedy film, especially in a stale era for the genre.