Finally, a movie where Jesse Eisenberg plays a character his age, although his role in Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less reminds me of a combination of ones he had before. Like in Adventureland, he has a demeaning job, this time breaking the speed limit around the edges of Grand Rapids, Michigan to deliver pizzas. The similarities with Eisenberg’s Zuck in the The Social Network is an escalating confrontation with his supposed long time best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) when they reveal how they have betrayed each other. Nick disapproves of Chet’s twin sister Kate’s (Dilshad Vadsaria) plans to go to Atlanta for a promotion, imagining a scenario where she hooks up with a rich douche bag who ‘doesn’t deserve her’ because a pizza boy apparently does. He also adds that he has had the ‘best graduation night of his life’ and is in love with Kate. Chet in return tells Nick that he told everyone how Nick’s mom fucked a lifeguard, inadvertently causing Nick’s parents’ divorce, among other effects of having a supposedly sexually active mom.
The uneven power dynamic of their friendship reflects that of another male duo on the other side of town, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson). As both are unemployed, they’re both resentful of Dwayne’s father (Fred Ward) spending his own lottery winnings and Dwayne airs his resentment to a stripper named Juicy or Jocelyn. Let me reminds you that this kind of comedy has characters who have skewed intellects and the two best friends are going to create hurdles to complicate their problems. This film’s unnecessary hurdle is this stripper, who knows a guy named Chango (Michael Pena) who does ‘hits’ for $100,000, twenty times more than Leon from The Professional does, because Dwayne and Travis obviously aren’t capable enough of killing someone by themselves. This need for a hundred grand is where Nick comes back in to this plot as the best friends, donning gorilla and missing link costumes, chloroform and entrap the former to rob a bank in under ten hours or else they detonate the bomb strapped on his torso.
This movie isn’t necessarily an ‘acting’ comedy, and we’ve had that kind of comedy this year, their disjointed suturing of comedy and pathos producing mixed results. Here, McBride’s delivery of rape jokes, despite his effective smugness, can’t be perfectly pulled off because of their subject matter. Ansari’s more concerned about making us laugh than making us feel Chet’s pain and betrayal. Eisenberg uses his trademark – choppy line delivery – while spending most of the time pleading, but then losing his best friend and being a walking time bomb does that to characters. Funny does work perfectly with some minor character, Pena performing Django with a high voice and a strange villainous charisma and not caring about audience sympathy and thus becomes hilarious with his presence.
Dwayne’s rape jokes peppers the film’s first scenes, and there will be more of that kind of humor that do reference gays and every race. I’ve seen and heard this kind of dark humor done before and less effectively. I don’t want to ruin the movie by quoting the punchlines, but they’re not written to portray these ‘minority groups too negatively. For example, Chet makes fun of his color and the lack of diversity in Grand Rapids. It’s the kind that compares the minority groups with the mostly white male cast and at the end of the day, implies that the characters making the jokes aren’t on their right minds. The humor also isn’t done sadistically and instead comes off as too absurd to be taken too seriously, but it’s understandable that some audience members might be offended by this movie. This movie did offend parts of me.
If this movie is loud and vulgar about some things, it can also be thankfully note-perfect on other aspects. Another source of humour for here are its references to Oscar-winning and nominated films, the most obvious one being last year’s Oscar bridesmaid, The Social Network and goes back to a subtle reference to The Wizard of Oz. The film also connects the dots between the stigma of Nick’s parents’ divorce and his dumpy adult life without sentimentality. And who doesn’t love a comedy with fake guns, real guns car chases and Swardson’s new spin on ‘that’s what she said’ jokes?
Warning, and technically a synopsis of the film and my review: Contains nudity, sexually suggestive dialogue, violence, coarse language, rape, racial and gay humor. 30 Minutes or Less opens everywhere on August 12th.