30 Minutes or Less is Like Seth MacFarlane Does Fargo

“Why did someone make this?” Sadly, that was the question on my mind almost from the first minute to the last during 30 Minutes or Less. I don’t understand why you’d take a lurid, darkly absurd tale of kidnappings, hitmen, and bomb vests and try to turn it into the most broad, bland, Borscht-belt schmucky chuckle fest possible. This movie is like watching Jay Leno tell pedophilia jokes, but less interesting. It’s not the LEAST funny movie I’ve ever seen (hello, Dinner for Schmucks), probably because you couldn’t make a totally unfunny movie with this cast if you tried, but you could tell this story was fundamentally flawed from the first five minutes.

Why did Ruben Fleischer want to tell this story, exactly? Because it seems like his interest wasn’t so much what people might do in these situations, but what jokes actors might make while wearing their costumes. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson come the closest (they’re supposed to be crazy, at least), but no one seems quite committed to the concept. Fleischer said in an interview that he wanted Fargo to be his point of reference, but “without any of the darkness” — which is actually 30 Minutes or Less‘s fatal flaw. It plays more like Family Guy, where the premise is just a planter box for interchangeable jokes about queefs and Emmanuel Lewis. Actually there weren’t any queef jokes. That would’ve been an improvement.

Jesse Eisenberg plays the unlucky pizza boy who eventually gets a bomb strapped to him, Aziz Ansari his best friend. Across town, Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are like a tweeker Tommy Boy, spending their days blowing stuff up and shooting guns in McBride’s backyard, where he mooches off his rich, ex-Marine father, who won the lottery a few years ago. In the real-life collar bomb case (that the studio and director claimed they’d barely heard of, in the most insulting public statement since Charlie Sheen’s “allergic reaction”), Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong masterminded a forced bank robbery in order to afford the $125,000 she needed to pay a hitman to kill her father, so that she could inherit his money (nice lady). The victim, Brian Wells, who had his head blown off on live TV, allegedly had been part of the robbery plot but didn’t know the collar bomb would be real at first. Wells and the hitman knew each other through a prostitute. In the film, McBride and Swardson find a hitman through their favorite stripper, and mastermind a robbery in order to pay the hitman to kill McBride’s dad and inherit his lottery money.

So really, aside from switching a couple things around, the only invention by the screenwriters was the dad winning the lottery. And that’s not even an invention, so much as the most reductive way possible to explain someone having a lot of money.  Also – was the plot about kidnapping a guy to rob a bank to get money to pay a hitman to kill your father to inherit his money not already far-fetched and absurd enough for you? You also had to throw in an ex-Marine who wins the lottery? Hey, why not an albino professional beach volleyball player?

It’d be one thing if they’d explored or somehow acknowledged the insane level of absurdity in the plot, but instead they just used it as backdrop for random, pointless movie references and cleverish wordplay (“Sometimes fate whips out its big ol’ cock and slaps you right in the face,” -Ehhh).

And another thing, I’m not the biggest Family Guy fan, but on the rare occasions when it does work, it works because the plot they’re constantly digressing and cutting away from is generally pretty simple, something lightweight like, “Peter’s afraid of the dentist,” or “Cleveland bought a lazy susan.” That way, it doesn’t bother you so much when they keep cutting away from it, because it’s just lightweight jokes piled on mundane situations. I may have mentioned this already, but 30 Minutes or Less IS ABOUT GUY WITH A F*CKING BOMB STRAPPED TO HIM. There’s only so much wise cracking you can imagine a person doing when they’re under threat of exploding.

At one point, after Jesse Eisenberg has recruited his buddy Aziz to help him rob this bank, they’re at the grocery story buying toy guns. In the check out line, Aziz seriously starts riffing with the sassy black checkout lady about f*cking mini hamburger patties. It’s not the worst riff in the world, but no matter what he says, there’s no way it can be that funny because no real human being on planet Earth would ever act like this.

At another point, Jesse Eisenberg, WHILE HE STILL HAS THE BOMB STRAPPED TO HIM, I might add, tells Ansari he wants to take a detour from robbing the bank “so I can tell my boss to go f*ck himself.”

So he puts the time-sensitive mission to save his own life on hold, drives to the pizza parlor where he works, runs inside, and tells the owner (played by the awesome-and-totally-wasted-here Brett Gelman) “F*CK YOU!” and leaves.

So… hearing Jesse Eisenberg shout ‘F*ck you.’  That was the pay off? Really? And let me get this straight: Jesse Eisenberg isn’t going to be rich tomorrow, is he? He’s robbing a bank for someone else so he doesn’t die. Does he plan to steal the money? Is he assuming he’s going to be dead and doesn’t care? Why is he quitting his job in the middle of robbing a bank? There are options, but 30 Minutes or Less chooses none of them. We’re just supposed to be so excited to hear “F*CK YOU!” that we forget everything else. Kind of this movie in a nutshell.

Grade: D+

I still love these actors, but this movie was just a terrible idea.