Is the phrase “sophomoric sophomore slump” redundant? Unfortunately, that’s what comes to mind when thinking about director Ruben Fleischer’s follow up to Zombieland. Fleischer’s second feature, 30 Minutes or Less, is infinitely more infantile than his debut. On the plus side, the actors are funny.
To be fair, the fact that 30 Minutes or Less is a disappointing second film isn’t entirely Fleischer’s fault. Michael Diliberti’s story is awful, so Fleischer was at a disadvantage from the start. A stupid script is a stupid script. Still, given the simple premise, you almost have to marvel at how unbelievably convoluted things become.
A pizza boy (Jesse Eisenberg) is kidnapped, rigged with explosives and told that he has nine hours to rob a bank and deliver the money or he’ll be blown to smithereens. That’s a great premise for an action/comedy. But the movie itself is bloated with shameless grabs for laughs that stifle the action and drag out its 83 minute running time to what feels like 2 1/2 hours.
An action/comedy should be quick and lively, but here the story meanders. Everything drifts like a rudderless ship lost at sea. And instead of trying to keep things on course, Fleischer just has his actors improvise, which results in some hilarious moments, but does nothing to keep the movie on track.
The cast is the film’s saving grace, Aziz Ansari in particular. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but the actors are funny. Ansari owns practically every scene he’s in. And fortunately, Ansari and Eisenberg play off of each other very well, which saves 30 Minute or Less from being completely unbearable. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson also have some funny moments together, but many of their scenes feel extraneous. Yes, McBride and Swardson are funny, but Eisenberg and Ansari are the leads, they should be the focus of the film. Too much time is spent developing McBride and Swardson’s bumbling criminal duo. It takes us out of the action.
When I laughed, I laughed heartily. And I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t watch it again for Aziz Ansari’s antics. However, its poorly plotted story renders 30 Minutes or Less about as stupid and disoriented as the unsympathetic characters it attempts to poke fun at. It’s a shame, because there was a lot of potential here. I still think it’s a great premise for a movie. And I love the cast. And I loved Zombieland. But now I’m wary of Fleischer’s directing. It’s the director’s job to keep things on target, and with 30 Minutes or Less I feel he missed the mark by a longshot.