I first pointed out the controversy that surrounded the plot behind 30 Minutes or Less back in April, and last week it exploded again on the net as more and more readers discovered that this comedy film is arguably based on the true story of a pizza delivery man who was strapped to a bomb and forced to rob a bank in 2003 with his life depending on it.
Despite the concept of this film’s creation making me uncomfortable – imagine if someone made a comedy about your friend’s death – I’m a fan of unhindered freedom of speech, so as promised I watched this movie to bring an educated but unbias review to our readers. Final verdict? It’s too short, but it’s legitimately funny from all angles and goes far beyond just being better than last week’s failed comedy film, The Change-Up. Unless Danny McBride humor or the plot’s controversy bothers you, then you’ll likely get your money’s downgraded AA+ worth with this movie.
This review will contain spoilers of when and where the first third of the movie starts to stray from the true events of the bank robbery, but it’s funny enough that I can tell everyone that they probably don’t need to read the whole review to make up their mind if they’ll like it or not. Just go see it.
The first difference in 30 Minutes or Less (directed by Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer) is that in real life the delivery guy was an adult and he performed the heist alone, whereas the film is about an adolescent (Jesse Eisenberg) who has his teacher roommate Chet (Aziz Ansari) join him in hopes of saving a friend’s life. The movie begins with an awesome “30 minute delivery or your pizza is free” racing montage that made me grin with warm memories of the novel Snow Crash. From there we see a slightly more asshole-ish Eisenberg than we’re used to seeing, but is still very worthy of cheering for.
Meanwhile, there’s Dwayne who is similar to all of Danny McBride’s other roles that I know and love and will never get tired of. Just like the real story, he wants to mastermind a proxy bank robbery to gain enough money to hire an assassin to kill his rich father who’s squandering all of his cash at a rate that won’t leave any for him to inherit. The difference between the film and the actual story is that in real life it was a woman (Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong) who masterminded it, whereas in the movie it’s a stripper who suggests it to McBride because she knows an assassin. Still, that’s an incredible coincidence for a movie whose writers (Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan) insist it’s not based on the real events at all and is just coincidental. Lastly, Travis (Nick Swardson) as well spoken engineering brain behind the story is instead a complete stray from the true story: Swardson’s immaturity and naivety match McBride’s and he doesn’t have a dead body in his freezer like the convoluted real version. McBride works best with a worshiping sidekick and Swardson does an okay job, but his acting was actually atrocious a few times and some scene reshoots would have helped.
As the day develops the attention to detail adds to the humor of each scene. McBride spits out ill formed sentences and questions his and others’ thought processes in comical ways, Eisenberg and Ansari constantly conflict in their combined efforts to create the best bank heist plan they can execute on a whim, and the plot’s ability to dwell on a single moment also elevates the laughs. The heist scene itself only lasts a few minutes but that’s long enough for Jesse and Aziz – and us – to get to know a few of the innocent bystanders. Sadly, when they flee the bank and are confronted with a cop, their predictable yet grin-worthy reply of “You just brought a gun to a bomb fight!” may have actually helped save the real life pizza man’s life. Instead, he submitted to cops and wasn’t helped quickly enough to the point where he actually exploded on live TV while the cops stood helpless from the distance. The 7+ year investigation would later reveal he was likely “in on it” with the other criminals and they double crossed him, so that’s one large distinction the film can make. Another is that it omits the scavenger hunt clues he was supposed to follow to his freedom. From here on the movie is completely different from reality.
We also see a decent secret romance between Jesse and Aziz’s sister (the ridiculously attractive Dilshad Vadsaria from the TV show Greek) in the first third, but she sadly gets shelved until much later in the story. With the criminals’ side of the story, we actually see several side characters developed well in the beginning, yet they sadly all also don’t get much or any attention in the middle of the movie. McBride’s rich dad (Fred Ward) doesn’t let his son forget that he’s an unemployed idiot and the hired assassin is actually a great comic relief character played by Michael Peña, who is usually very stern or emotional or anything but silly in his roles. The side characters were enjoyable so it’s a shame they didn’t get used more; this film definitely suffers from the 90 minute film formula and actually only lasts just 83 minutes! Even the last scene is unexpectedly short, though it certainly does end with one last fulfilling laugh.
While these complaints do hold the movie back from being better, the characters and jokes that do exist all succeed and surprise from start to finish. You’ll get some memorable McBride quotes, some double decker joke dialogue that you might miss the back end of because you’re still laughing at the first half, and unlike The Change-Up this movie is willing to be offensive to get its R rating instead of just saying swear words a lot. However, like The Change-Up, we also see some gratuitous nudity, and I do mean gratuitous. Bianca Kajlich – an actress on the TV show Rules of Engagement for the past four years – gets topless before disappearing for almost the entirety of the film. Um, okay? Should we expect her to transition into being a film actress now? Did she just want to show off her body? Did Kenny Powers talk her into the role? She’s scheduled to star alongside unknown actors in two upcoming films from Clare Kramer – an actress turned director and writer – so I’ll pessimistically wait and see.
I still think it’s a jerk move to make a movie that purposely or knowingly dances on someone’s grave, but as a comedy film it’s a good one that’s definitely great summer movie fodder and well worth seeing at full price. Not only did I enjoy this movie much more than I expected, but it still gets a high score from me even after deducting for the under use of its side characters.
Overall Score: 7.25 – Good. (7s are good, but not great. These films often have a stereotypical plot or are great movies that have a few minor flaws. Fans of this movie’s genre might love it, but others will still enjoy seeing it in theaters.)