30 Minutes or Less is a strange sort of film, but the elements are all there to make for a decent bit of entertainment. It takes an extremely convoluted plot and boils it down to a film that clocks in at just a shade over 80 minutes. It is an affably ridiculous action comedy that wisely thinks up very simple ways to explain just how functionally illiterate all the characters are. The film continues in the same self-referential vein of most hybrid comedies of the past few years, with nods to everything from Die Hard and The Great Santini, to Friday the 13th Part 3. It all adds up to a film that is fun while it lasts, but ultimately ends up going nowhere special.
Lazy man-children Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) have big dreams of killing Dwayne’s overbearing ex-Marine father (Fred Ward) and the inheritance to fund the opening of the first ever tanning parlour-slash-brothel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The friends decide to hire a hitman (Michael Pena) to do the job for them, but they don’t have the cash on hand to pay for the hit.
Instead of robbing a bank themselves, Dwayne and Travis kidnap an unsuspecting slacker and pizza delivery man named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) to do it for them, by strapping a bomb to his chest and following him around to ensure that he does the job within ten hours. Scared and not knowing where to turn, Nick turns to his former best friend and roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari) for help. Chet is mad at Nick for being in love with his sister, and Nick is mad at Chet for ruining his parents’ marriage.
While director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and first time writer Michael Diliberti fill their film with countless obvious references to action blockbusters and heist films, 30 Minutes or Less feels closer in tone to a lazily made 1970s grindhouse quickie production. There is something oddly charming about how the film shrugs off any plot holes with a single sentence explanation or an incredulous snicker from one of the characters. The violence on display here is also a small step beyond your average action blockbuster.
The cast is perfectly fine, but since they are all mostly recognized comedic talents, no one really stands out from the crowd. McBride and Ansari get the biggest laughs, but that is something that casual followers of their careers probably would have expected to begin with. Pena is solid in a role that feels like an amped up take on his character from Observe and Report. In a way, the level playing field of acting talent helps the movie greatly since none of them are playing fully fleshed out characters to begin with. What little characterization the audience gets is told through expository dialog that never once shows the audience what happened to these people before the film or why they should even care.
This annoying knack of telling and not showing carries over to the very curiously truncated ending of the film, which smacks of reshoots and studio interference. Instead of explaining things like it had previously been doing, the film ends as abruptly as Jurassic Park III. Further compounding matters is a very lengthy post credits sequences that is funny, but makes no logical sense at all following the ending.
There are big laughs to be had and some cool action sequences in 30 Minutes or Less, but there is no escaping that this is a fairly clumsy movie. It is the kind of movie that is entertaining to watch, but is ultimately pretty forgettable. The title might as well be referencing the life span it will have in the memory of viewers.