“30 Minutes or Less” fails to make an impact

Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari in Columbia Pictures' "30 Minutes or Less."/File

Characterized by a surprisingly short running time and an abundance of cheap gags, “30 Minutes or Less” continues the streak of mediocre summer movies that may fare well with more forgiving moviegoers. As an R-rated buddy comedy with a solid cast, “30 Minutes or Less” has the potential of appealing to an audience that found such films as 2008’s “Pineapple Express” to their liking. Unfortunately, this film fails to distinguish itself as something other than a barely tolerable Hollywood gimmick.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”), “30 Minutes or Less” marks the second time Fleischer has worked with lead actor Jesse Eisenberg. After witnessing the success of “The Social Network,” there is no doubt that Eisenberg should have more dynamic roles at his disposal. Despite the somewhat bland nature of the characters, Eiseberg and co-star Aziz Ansari manage to find moments of comedic honesty and produce a somewhat viable relationship under the circumstances. Supporting actor Danny McBride brings the same charisma that has made him a familiar face in the realm of raunchy Hollywood comedies, often portraying off-putting and eccentric characters. Unfortunately this is not enough to salvage the film. The look of the movie is plain; at times it feels as though there is not enough to look at. Many of the action scenes seem efficient but insignificantly shot.

The story revolves around Nick (Eisenberg), a by-the-book slacker and pizza delivery boy, and Chet (Ansari), a young schoolteacher. We find their friendship is in the middle of a crisis, as their priorities slowly change and both friends begin to realize that their relationship could be coming to an abrupt end. A crisis once fueled by petty disagreements suddenly takes on a life threatening change when Nick approaches Chet for help after being strapped with a bomb vest by two thieves (McBride, Nick Swardson) who have ordered him to rob a bank by days end. Unable to deny his once best friend the services that can potentially save his life, Chet decides to put all differences aside and help pull the worst thought out bank heist in recent time.

Halfway through, the film takes on a somewhat desperate approach. As is common with movies that run out of tricks, the plot is infused with another supporting character to add resuscitation. A hit man (Michael Pena) is hired to kill Nick to tie up any ‘loose ends’ when things don’t go to plan. There are moments where the actors seem to be overcompensating for a script that lacks deeper substance. Ansari, who is well practiced in the field of improvisational comedy, somehow manages to insert a laugh when most needed, while Eisenberg finds refuge in his abilities as an actor and prevents the film from sinking into a deeper hole.

Considering its lackluster story structure, it is interesting to hear unofficial rumors that the film was loosely based on actual events, considering how loose adaptations often have solid material to work from. Fleischer’s “Zombieland” managed to seamlessly combine good storytelling and stylistic elements that made it stand out as a post-apocalyptic comedy with heart. “30 Minutes or Less” seems like a step backwards. Fleischer has had much hype around his new film “Gangster Squad” that is due to be released in 2013. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come. Considering the weak competition and it’s strong cast, “30 Minutes or Less” could find an audience with moviegoers that have an hour to kill and possess an easily fulfilled sense of humor, but not without some consideration I would hope.