30 Minutes or Less (Ruben Fleishcher, 2011)

I enjoyed Ruben Fleishcher’s debut feature, Zombieland, in so much that he seems to know how to work many characters within a given space. The setting and narrative construct aside, Zombieland was effective for its simplicity. With 30 Minutes or Less, Fleishcher seems to have a handle on how to frame his characters, but it’s his screenplay that doesn’t know what to do with them. There’s thinness to the narrative that forces Fleishcher to keep his actors on-screen for decorative effect.

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a delivery boy who must abide by his pizzeria’s strict mantra of deliveries in “30 minutes or less”, lest he has the pizza taken out of his paycheck. He lives with a roommate named Chet (Aziz Ansari) – someone who once shared Nick’s sense of despondency, but is now on the cusp of getting his life together. Meanwhile, two men on the other side of town are concocting an elaborate get rich quick murder – all meant to finance a prostitution ring disguised as a tanning salon.

What elevates the scrappy material are its actors; Jesse Eisenberg is terribly miscast for his role, but at least he offers some semblance of intellect to the proceedings. Aziz Ansari, who I enjoy in Parks and Recreation, seems out of his element – perhaps it’s the limited material he’s working with, but his character simply functions as a screaming buffoon. He does what he can, so consider it an A for effort. But no matter how good the central actors may be, it doesn’t serve to forgive the fact that I’m tiring of Danny McBride’s act, as he seems to regurgitate the same character over and over again.  Whatever criticism someone like Seth Rogen gets seems displaced when compared to McBride. Michael Peña offers some of the film’s best sequences, though unfortunately is simply too one-dimensional to ever elevate the material beyond what it is. And you might as well forget that there are any women characters, because writers Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan certainly have.

30 Minutes or Less is a very ugly and inherently stupid film. The film’s characters inhabit a dingy space that seems surprisingly grounded in reality. But given the idiotic tendencies of its characters and their refusal to acknowledge the joke of it all, there seems to be an accidental critique of the twenty-something generation buried here. But given the film’s aimlessness and general disregard for formalism, I suppose I’m reading a bit too much into it.

Rating: 4/10