At a mere 83 minutes, 30 Minutes or Less might seem able to deliver on the promise of its zippy title. Instead, this slackers-go-gangsta comedy demonstrates that less than 90 minutes can be a very long time.
The story begins at full speed, as pizza-delivery guy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) rushes to an address he knows he can't reach in the half hour his employer requires. Soon, Nick's high-velocity antics will be motivated by something more urgent than a 30-minutes-or-free guarantee. Two witless thugs will strap a bomb to him and threaten to detonate it if Nick doesn't bring them $100,000.
This setup was inspired by the less-than-hilarious case of Brian Wells, a pizza deliverer who died in an explosion after trying to rob a bank while wearing a bomb. In embroidering that real-life incident, director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter Michael Diliberti have devised a tiresomely elaborate backstory.
Grand Rapids lowlife Dwayne (Danny McBride) is impatient to inherit what's left of the $10 million his crusty ex-Marine dad (Fred Ward) won in the Michigan lottery. Dwayne's murder consultant -- a local stripper -- suggests he hire a hitman. She knows just the guy: her sometime boyfriend Chango (Michael Pena). But Chango requires $100,000, upfront.
Dwayne and his equally dim buddy, Travis (Nick Swardson), know how to get that kind of money: knock over a bank. But they'd rather not do it themselves. So they kidnap Nick, lock a bomb vest on him and order him to deliver the 100 G's in 10 hours.
Nick turns for help to his only friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), an Indian-American grade-school teacher with whom he happens to be feuding. Chet reluctantly agrees to aid Nick, and soon find himself wearing a ski mark and brandishing a toy gun. Along the way, Chet's twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) is pulled into the plot, to the two pals' horror. Nick's longstanding crush on Kate is one reason he's been squabbling with Chet.
As the first pair of doofuses tangles with the second, Chango arrives in town. He's ready for his cash, and he has a gun. But Travis, whose explosives-savant status is never explained, has a flame-thrower.
Fleischer directed Eisenberg in Zombieland, but the two don't demonstrate any rapport here. The actor is halting and off-rhythm, as are most of the other performers. The cast rarely finds a plausible way to deliver the Tarantino-meets-Apatow dialogue, a stew of tough-guy swagger and bromantic bawdy chatter. The principal exception is Pena, who commits utterly to his Chicano-stereotype role, and actually pulls some laughs from it.
30 Minutes or Less would be somewhat more entertaining if the frequent car-chase scenes were better staged, and the song choices weren't so obvious. Apparently the filmmakers thought that using tunes associated with other movies, like Beverly Hills Cop's "The Heat is On," would confuse viewers into thinking they were watching an action-comedy classic.
A modestly amusing sketch featuring several of the movie's characters follows the end credits. But the odds are better than 30-to-one that theaters will be entirely empty before this bonus begins.