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Movie Review

30 Minutes or Less

Strapped for cash: Human bomb holds up a bank in caper comedy ‘30 Minutes or Less’

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / August 12, 2011

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I like a movie that knows when we’re ready for the check. “30 Minutes or Less’’ is a mean, vulgar little caper comedy and just as you start looking around for a waiter, there go the credits. It has a miserable start - well, it has a miserable middle, too. But the director Ruben Fleischer makes swift work of Michael Diliberti’s script, in which a deadbeat Grand Rapids, Mich., nincompoop (Danny McBride) forces a deadbeat pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) to rob a bank by outfitting him with a bomb. The nincompoop wants the cash to pay a guy to kill his Marine father (Fred Ward), allowing him to inherit lottery money that would finance his strip-mall tanning brothel.

The crime is appallingly petty. But occasionally the friction between two actors’ idiocy will produce a comic spark. The cast also includes Nick Swardson as McBride’s dimmer and yet smarter sidekick, Aziz Ansari as Eisenberg’s over-caffeinated best friend, and Michael Peña as a gangsta whose soft sibilance is how a Jheri curl might sound were one able to speak. And, oh, the things it would say. Every mouth in this movie is dirtier than a gas station bathroom. When Eisenberg and Ansari volley insults at each other, it’s the ping-pong of a bad sitcom, one that’s satisfied that few of their insults could ever be said on a sitcom.

The characters pass their part of the plot around like a hot potato, and there’s fun in the conceit that all each side wants is to get what it wants - paid, laid, defused - and be done. The efficiency is welcome, particularly in the last shot. It’s just disheartening to watch vile people try to “outwit’’ each other with flamethrowers and pen-guns. “Zombieland,’’ Fleischer’s previous film, also with Eisenberg, was a much smarter sprint. “30 Minutes or Less’’ is like a film-noir junkie trying to improvise O. Henry on two hours sleep. The movie never surpasses its juvenile tenor. It coasts on cynicism and condescension, while reveling in cartoon violence that looks pretty lethal to me.

McBride is best as a surprise garnish - as he was for his one scene in the otherwise pitiful “Due Date.’’ He’s a McNugget, not a meal. He practices a kind of ruthlessly uncouth assault comedy that leaves you wanting to press charges. The spring stoner comedy he wrote and starred in - “Your Highness’’ - should have won life sentences for everyone involved. But what makes McBride scary is that prison would only make his comedy more relentless. I haven’t read Diliberti’s script, so, with McBride, Swardson, and Ansari, it’s impossible to know how much of this movie was made up on the spot. But they seem to be inventing most of their material, especially Swardson, who might be the Steve Nash of throwaway dialogue. He has the funniest line of the summer, but by the time he delivered it, I hated myself for laughing since nothing else in the movie is as funny.

If Fleischer stopped mocking for mockery’s sake and applied his pen-gun and flamethrower to another smart, satirical script, one even sharper than “Zombieland,’’ he’d be dangerous. Not that this movie has an obligation to “say something,’’ but a story about a Michigan kid with a bomb strapped to his chest doesn’t feel quite like escapism. And Eisenberg spends “30 Minutes or Less’’ looking worried that he might not make it out alive. But that “or less’’ is all that Fleischer is taking seriously.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com or followed on Twitter: @wesley_morris.

Jesse Eisenberg

Eisenberg delivers

Drama to comedy, Facebook founder to pizza guy, Jesse Eisenberg succeeds.

30 MINUTES OR LESS Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Written by: Michael Diliberti

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña, and Fred Ward

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 88 minutes

Rated: R (profanity, a stripper’s breasts, car crashes - in other words, the works)

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