Thirty minutes and preferably less would be a suitable running time for the new movie from the guy who made Zombieland. Ruben Fleischer's flailing followup contains little besides Jesse Eisenberg to remind viewers how inventive he can be.
30 Minutes or Less stars Eisenberg as Nick, one of those indifferent slackers Hollywood sells to the youth market as heroes. Nick slouches and glibly mumbles through his job delivering pizzas, hopefully within the title's time limit or else he pays. Naturally there's a smokin' hot sort-of girlfriend (Dilshad Vadsaria) whose success and impending career move makes one wonder how they ever hooked up.
Actually she's the twin sister of Nick's pal Chet (Aziz Ansari) who is also successful, as a substitute teacher. Maybe they keep Nick around as a reminder of what can happen if they fail. Any buddy movie is in trouble if the friendship doesn't seem possible. Certainly they don't behave like friends; Chet ruined Nick's life by breaking up his parents, seducing his ex-girlfriend and nearly choking him out. Who needs enemies?
But Chet is all Nick has on his side when a pair of incredibly stupid criminals named Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) drag pizza boy into a scheme to murder Dwayne's father. They need $100,000 for a hit man (Michael Pena, the movie's lone decent performance) to kill the Major (Fred Ward), an ex-Marine who wants his son to grow up, so of course he deserves to die.
Dwayne and Travis place an order to lure Nick to their hideout, greeting the delivery with monkey masks and big guns. They strap Nick into an inescapable bomb vest and tell him to rob a bank, or blow up. Fleischer wastes his 30 minutes allotted for earning our interest with this setup. The rest of the movie should be free.
30 Minutes or Less merely puts together actors with only one funny talent each, making them do it over and over again. Eisenberg tosses away ironic wisecracks. Ansari mostly screams his lines, as if volume were the key to comedy. McBride has played this vulgar loose cannon so many times that he's powder burned. Swardson has no qualms about playing dumber than a bag of hammers. But with only a handful of lines among them worth remembering, it's a dull routine.
The movie includes the usual disclaimer about being a work of fiction and anything that seems familiar is an unintended coincidence. But it's tough to not notice how this resembles a real-life situation that didn't turn out funny while watching it. Columbia Pictures claims screenwriter Michael Diliberti was "vaguely" familiar with the story of Brian Wells, a Pennsylvania pizza man who had a bomb locked around his neck and robbed a bank, claiming he was forced to do it.
Wells wound up dying when the bomb detonated. His family is understandably upset that Fleischer and Diliberti are playing the idea for laughs. All that Wells' survivors need is to see 30 Minutes or Less to feel vindicated that the plan failed.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.