30 Minutes or Less delivers big laughs

Learn­ing that there is a true story that is eer­ily sim­il­ar to the plot of 30 Minutes or Less was a bit un­nerv­ing.

30 Minutes or Less is a com­edy, a dark one, loosely based on a true situ­ation that didn’t end so well for one pizza de­liv­ery man in Erie, Pa., back in 2003. Those at­tached to the film say the movie is not the story of Bri­an Wells, who was kid­napped and forced to rob a bank with a bomb strapped to his chest. The bomb ex­ploded and Wells died.

I heard the story back when it happened but didn’t con­nect it to the movie un­til I at­ten­ded the screen­ing last week. 

In the movie, Jesse Eis­en­berg is Nick, a pizza de­liv­ery driver in love with the twin sis­ter of his best friend/room­mate, Chet (Aziz An­sari). Mean­while, on the oth­er side of town, are two slack­ers, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Trav­is (Nick Sward­son) who have come up with a hareb­rained plan to murder Dwayne’s lot­tery-win­ning fath­er (Fred Ward) for an early in­her­it­ance.

They’re too wimpy to pull the trig­ger them­selves, so they hire a hit man, Chango (Mi­chael Pena, in a ser­i­ously ste­reo­typed Latino role played for laughs). In or­der to come up with the $100,000 to pay Chango, they de­cide to kid­nap a stranger and force him to rob a bank. Trav­is, be­ing some­what of a pyro­tech­nics ex­pert, designs a bomb that they will strap to the un­lucky guy’s chest to en­sure he com­plies.

That un­lucky guy winds up be­ing Nick, who then re­cruits Chet to help him pull off the heist. The movie’s high points come when the guys are pre­par­ing for the rob­bery and dur­ing the ac­tu­al heist.

Eis­en­berg re­unites with his Zom­bie­land dir­ect­or Ruben Fleis­cher, this time with an Oscar nom­in­a­tion un­der his belt for The So­cial Net­work. I’m grow­ing a bit tired of his nerdy loser shtick (OK, let’s face it, I think he prob­ably doesn’t have to “act” much to come across this way), but ser­i­ously, between Ad­ven­ture­land, Zom­bie­land, The So­cial Net­work and now 30 Minutes or Less, Eis­en­berg could teach a mas­ter class. 

An­sari had the best lines and provided the most laughs. I’m a fan of his char­ac­ter Tom Haver­ford from the Parks and Re­cre­ation TV show, but I’ve nev­er taken no­tice of him in a movie be­fore, even though he’s had parts in Funny People and Get Him to the Greek. I ex­pect he’ll even­tu­ally make the move from sidekick to lead act­or.

I’ve nev­er been too crazy about McBride or Sward­son, but the char­ac­ters they play really suit them in 30 Minutes or Less. Could I be­lieve those two slack­ers want to kill someone for an in­her­it­ance? That’s a no-brain­er.

30 Minutes or Less is a brisk 83 minutes. Any longer than that and I think the plot would have worn thin. I ap­pre­ci­ated the un­pre­dict­able end­ing. The small ro­mantic plot is weak and the act­ress (Dilshad Vad­saria) didn’t dis­play enough per­son­al­ity to leave a mem­or­able im­pres­sion.

On the one hand, 30 Minutes or Less is en­joy­able with more laughs than ex­pec­ted. On the oth­er hand, it’s sad that this really happened to someone, only his end­ing was much dif­fer­ent than what the movie de­picts. ••

Movie Grade: B

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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