The most rewarding aspect of 30 Minutes or Less is the comic chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari. The two portray best friends who get pulled into the most dangerous and hilarious of situations when Eisenberg’s pizza delivery driver is kidnapped and forced to rob a Grand Rapids, Michigan bank.
But let’s back up to the beginning. In the opening moments of the film, the tone is immediately established. Eisenberg is delivering a pizza with the clock ticking, driving like a madman in an effort to make it during the film title’s period.We discover that Eisenberg and Ansari are roommate/best friends early in the film. The duo support each other through and through. This is what makes it so believable that Ansari’s teacher would see his friend waltz into his classroom demanding to speak and drop everything to aid him in robbing a bank. Sure, there’s a bomb strapped to his chest that will go off unless he does said robbery within 48 hours... but it is at that point that the Eisenberg-Ansari comedy tandem takes off with a full head of steam.
Eisenberg is his usual equally affable and intense self. Gone is the seriousness of The Social Network. In its place is a piece of sensational slacker soliloquy, although we still understand the utmost urgency that is his predicament. Watching the actor do his thing in 30 Minutes or Less is a joyous journey.
Ansari continues his streak of stellar work, and also has the presence of mind not to steal scenes from his lead. His character is a side player and the actor plays it as such. He’s got some great zingers, no doubt, but the Parks and Rec actor's brilliance is how he can pull back his presence to keep it firmly in the supporting zone.
We adore the work of Danny McBride. Eastbound and Down is one of the best shows on TV. The fault we have with his character in 30 Minutes or Less is not necessarily a problem with the performance. The issue is what McBride has to do with the words he’s been given. There is not one shred of his character that is likeable. Sure, bad guys in movies -- or even misunderstood ones who do bad things -- don’t always have a redeemable ounce in their soul.
For example, audiences pull for Alan Rickman’s villain in Die Hard until it is simply time for him to go. Even watching Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in the Harry Potter series is proof of this fact. The audience has to at least stomach the villain and appreciate his motives and method in order to root against him when the hero emerges. This is not the case on any level with McBride’s character in 30 Minutes or Less.
Compare that with Michael Pena, who plays a hoodlum-gangster that is charged with collecting the money from Eisenberg’s character in order to assassinate McBride’s “evil” father.
Pena plays it subtle, showing signs of weakness amongst his bravado. That makes it fun for the audience, witnessing him show his comedic chops. What happens to him is downright hilarious and much of that credit goes to the actor with his delivery. The audience knows there are guys out there like him. Whereas McBride’s character feels like it was created in a comedy lab without any grounding or gamesmanship.
30 Minutes or Less does deliver laughs. It is a solid summer comedy, just with a missing link that is its lack of a tangible reason to even watch its villain do his thing. In the end, if the audience sees the film as the Eisenberg and Ansari show, it is one fantastic foray into comic mayhem.