Slightly longer version of a review in the Friday, Aug. 12 Oregonian....
With "30 Minutes or Less," director Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland") tries for an odd structural variation on the late-'80s/early-'90s buddy action comedy. He follows two pairs of buddies -- one on each side of the law -- giving them nearly equal amounts of screen time. (The filmmakers actually cite "Heat" as an influence.) It's a brisk, though laugh-imbalanced, B-comedy with a hard R.
The script is getting some bad press for bad taste. It appears to lift its premise from the real-life 2003 Brian Wells case, in which pizza driver Wells was forced to rob a bank by men who shackled a bomb to his neck. The bomb killed Wells on live TV. But beyond the setup, "30 Minutes" isn't really all that dark -- it's mostly a punches-pulled humor exercise, plainly nostalgic for the bickery mayhem that flooded multiplexes two decades ago.
Here, two idiot slacker scuzzballs (Danny McBride, Nick Swardson) strap the bomb on a slightly less slackery delivery driver (Jesse Eisenberg), who draws his schoolteacher buddy (Aziz Ansari) into the plot.
Fleischer brings his "Zombieland" action chops to bear. At a tight 83 minutes, the movie isn't a frame longer than necessary. The car stunts are cool, the movie wallows amusingly in its blighted strip-mall landscape, and the scenes with Ansari and Eisenberg pop -- particularly during their laugh-out-loud amateur robbery.
But the McBride/Swardson half of the movie, while slightly more sinister, doesn't enjoy the same desperate stakes, tight repartee, or Ansari's manic energy -- even after Michael Peña shows up as an offbeat, hyperviolent wild-card.* This leaves "30 Minutes" feeling fairly (but not fatally) lopsided, dramatically and comically, whenever it leaves the sweaty pizza guy.
* I'm an avowed McBride fan, but between his lowered energy in this and "Your Highness," I'm starting to wonder if he's best enjoyed in smaller doses when it comes to mainstream comedy. (We discussed this on "Cort and Fatboy" today, actually. Fats' theory about Jody Hill sort being the secret Scorsese to McBride's DeNiro is interesting.)
'30 Minutes or Less' (The Oregonian, Friday, Aug. 12, 2011)