Monday, August 15, 2011

30 MINUTES OR LESS - Mmmm ... Now That's Some Tasty Comedy.


- In a couple of my recent reviews, I've talked about how wildly inconsistent - and oftentimes unfair - reviews of big screen comedies tend to be. Reviewers know all too well how to analyze a film's satirical bent or attempts at social commentary, but too often, very funny comedies get overlooked simply because their merits (ie being funny) are more difficult to explain. So let me explain why 30 MINUTES OR LESS is one of the best films of the summer and one of the best comedies of the year - because it's funny as hell. This is a movie with a razor-sharp script, a great sense of pacing, some crazy action, and an awesome cast that is just about perfect for the film. Somehow though, the movie is getting lukewarm reviews and had a less-than-stellar box-office debut. But I am here to tell you - this might just be a future cult classic in the making.

The premise of 30 Minutes Or Less might sound dark. Very dark. And that's because ... it is. The whole movie is just gleefully messed-up, and sometimes, just plain wrong. If you like things like Eastbound & Down, then you'll be right at home here. But I digress ... the premise here is that a twenty-something pizza delivery guy Nick (Jessie Eisenberg) is having something of a quarter-life crisis when his life gets a sudden nitro-boost of danger, thanks to two losers / would-be criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). One of the thugs, Dwayne (McBride), stands to inherit a lot of money if he can only off his war-hero dad. So Dwayne racks his pea-brain to come up with a foolproof plan to have his father killed - only problem is, Dwayne and his partner-in-crime, Travis (Swardson) need money to hire the assassin. So, the key to their roundabout plan is strapping a bomb to some innocent, unsuspecting patsy and having *him* rob a bank for them, getting them the necessary cash to payoff Chango (Michael Pena) - a hired gun. Dwayne and Travis decide to lure in an ususpecting pizza guy to strap the bomb to, and of course, that guy turns out to be Nick. So Nick - used to dashing around town delivering pizzas with a deadline, suddenly has to figure out how to rob a bank, make a getaway, and stay alive, all with a rigged vest of explosives fastened to his chest. He's got his best friend and roommate, Chet in tow (Aziz Ansari), but ultimately, he's got to rely on his wits, his survival instincts, and his ability to drive really fast ... to get the job done.

Jessie Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari make a great comedic duo, in the grand tradition of buddy-comedy pairings. And if you think about it, they're a perfect match. Eisenberg is known for playing tightly-wound characters who keep things bottled up. Aziz's whole persona is that of a guy who's loud, expressive, and has a hard time keeping things to himself. Suffice it to say, the two have great chemistry and have some great banter in the film. Even though both do some assholish things throughout the film, you can't help but root for these guys. And Eisenberg is great, as per usual, but Ansari is probably the big surprise. He's obviously a much looser, more improvisational actor than Eisenberg, but he's also a natural. Again, it's a great case where two seemingly odd-couple actors work great together. However, the biggest scene-stealers in the movie are the villainous duo of McBride and Swardson. These guys are absolutely friggin' hilarious together, and had me clutching my sides with laughter on multiple occasions. Sure, McBride is essentially just doing a variation on his trademark Kenny Powers character, but that doesn't make his brilliant line deliveries any less hilarious in my eyes. McBride has some lines in this movie that are instant-classics, in my humble opinion. Michael Pena is also great as the "Satanic Hispanic" Chango, and has some awesome lines and moments as well. Fred Ward also gets in a couple of great scenes as "The Major."

Overall, the movie's script is packed to the brim with hilarious dialogue, but makes time for nice character moments as well - and is filled with some intense action to boot. It's just a phenomenally-structured screenplay that really clicks on multiple levels. And the film's direction - by Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame - is similarly lean, mean, and ultra-slick. The movie just has - and maintains - an incredible sense of forward momentum throughout. There's not a dull moment, but the movie also never feels overstuffed. All the big character beats are woven seamlessly into the plot, and there are also tons of little touches - bits of dialogue, the eclectic soundtrack, well-placed pop-culture references - that give the movie an overabundance of personality. I also give the movie credit for having the guts to go dark and not go for the easy happy ending or the easy clean ending. In short, the movie isn't your typical by-the-numbers comedy, and I was pleasantly surprised at the somewhat twisted places the plot was willing to take its characters.

Fact is, I laughed my ass off while watching 30 MINUTES OR LESS, and was totally into the film and its characters for the duration of its running time. And hey, even though I said in my opening rant that most comedies don't need to work in some larger thematic context to be effective ... I will say this: this movie manages to capture a certain feeling of twenty-something restlessness that I found very spot-on. While the movie isn't overtly about this sort of thing, I think that it has an authenticity and realness - in the characters, the dialogue, the relationships - that make the funny moments all the funnier and the stakes of the action scenes all the higher.

This is one hell of an action/comedy that deserves to be seen, talked about, and quoted. Spread the word - 30 MINUTES OR LESS is hot, fresh, and right on time.

My Grade: A-

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