In 2003, a Pennsylvania pizza-delivery man robbed a bank with a bomb strapped around his neck. He ultimately was alleged to have been part of the robbery scheme, but with the belief that his co-conspirators wouldn’t let him die once he had the money. The robbery took place; the bomb went off. The suspected motivation behind the plan was so one of the man’s accomplices could hire an assassin to kill her father, therefore leaving her with an inheritance.
Whether the pizza guy was truly guilty or coerced to commit a crime, we’ll never know. But the story made someone in Hollywood think, Hey, that would make a great movie — but let’s make it a comedy!
The result is 30 Minutes or Less, and your enjoyment of the film — or, more likely, your decision to see it at all — will probably rely on whether you regard its inspiration as tasteless or brilliant. Directed by Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer from a script from freshman screenwriter Michael Diliberti, the film is violent, fitfully funny, often offensive, and, needless to say, wildly uneven in tone. But even if they laugh, anyone who knows the back story won’t be able to quite shake the queasy niggling that this actually happened.
30 Minutes opens with Nick (Jesse Eisenberg, taking a huge step down from The Social Network) running red lights and dodging trains and children in order to deliver a pizza in the titular amount of time. (The sequence is set to the Hives’ “Tick Tick Boom.” Classy.) Meanwhile, a more egregious man-child, Dwayne (Danny McBride), and his dirtbag friend Travis (Nick Swardson) are pissy because Dwayne’s former-Marine father (Fred Ward) doesn’t want them sitting around his palatial house (he won a $10 million lottery) and eating his food all day. Actually, when he walks in on the pair, they’re not actually sitting but pretending to hump Jason Voorhees as they watch Friday the 13th, Part 3 in 3D. You immediately sympathize with Dad.
But his horrible mistreatment makes Dwayne receptive to an idea a gold-digging stripper gives him: Kill the guy and get his inheritance early. First, though, he’ll need $100,000 to hire a hit man. (Does this sound familiar?) A dim lightbulb goes off, and Dwayne decides to execute a robbery-by-proxy. For whatever reason, he chooses that proxy to be Nick, luring him into his scrapyard-hideout by ordering a pie, knocking him out, and strapping a bomb to him. Nick will have 10 hours to rob a bank, then will be given a code to diffuse the bomb. If he doesn’t comply, apparent arms-genius Travis will detonate the explosives. Hijinks will surely ensue!
Naturally, Nick needs a partner in crime, so he begs his BFF Chet (Aziz Ansari) to help him out. Also naturally, there has to be a love interest, who happens to be Chet’s twin sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). That setup guarantees two things: One, that there will be some unresolved tension between the friends. And two, that there will be Indian jokes. Diliberti also throws in jabs at “camel jockeys,” gays, and AIDS amidst all the holy-shit-what-do-we-do wackiness. It’s difficult to laugh while you’re cringing.
Eisenberg does his usual motor-mouthed straight man, though with less success than he has in films such as Zombieland and Adventureland. McBride’s character is too repellant to be funny. The film’s only saving grace is Ansari, whose high-pitched voice and general geniality makes even low-key riffs about Netflix and 5-Hour Energy drinks entertaining. (Freaking out over the robbery, Chet says of the latter, “I’ve had three. It’s, like, too much energy!”) It’s uncertain whether a cop chase set to Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On” is meant to be ironic. The bombs, rifles, and flamethrowers, however, are deadly serious — which is perhaps how this real-life story should have been handled.