It is becoming increasingly clear that the simple “comedy” genre is becoming just a bit too general for today’s motion pictures. Take 30 Minutes or Less, an action-filled, bad-mouth fest that zips through its plot with enough time to maybe remember a few dirty one-liners without having to focus too hard on its straight forward story. It only makes sense that three-quarters of the movie’s stars are comedians who pride themselves in crude humor, and less so in creating real comedy. At 83 minutes running, Less contains a surprising amount of laughs in its short range of time; it also misses a lot of opportunities.
Director Ruben Fleischer, in charge of 2009’s Zombieland, brings back the infamous, brainy white kid Jesse Eisenberg, who showed enough zeal killing the walking dead it appears. He plays Nick, an out-of-college pizza boy, just a slight downgrade from Mark Zuckerberg, speeding his beat-up mustang to people’s doors in “30 minutes or less,” otherwise they get their pie for free. He mooches off his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), a longtime buddy who has a makeshift job as a substitute teacher of all things. They reminisce about high school, when their lives were intact, and then quarrel about Nick’s relationship with Chet’s sister. Soon they find how hollow this simple test of friendship becomes.
In charge of putting lives into chaos is another duo, Dwayne and Travis played by Kenny Powers, I mean Danny McBride, and Nick Swardson, respectively (You’ll understand that confusion if you see this). They both play out-of-work man-children, blowing up watermelons with Travis’s numerous explosives while thinking up get-rich quick schemes. Dwayne lives comfortably without work thanks to his former marine father’s (Fred Ward) past lottery win, but is grudgingly assigned to remedial house work like skimming their pool. The two low-lives then come up with an idea. Well, that might give them too much credit. They decide to kill Dwayne’s dad, inherit the money, and start their “lucrative” tanning salon business plan. Oh yeah, these guys are bright.
In order to do this however, they must hire a hit-man, suggested by a stripper Dwayne visits at a gentleman’s club he frequents. Getting a sense of his character yet? To acquire the large sum for their assassin, they strap a vest bomb onto Nick and give him just several hours to rob a bank and get their desired string of cash; otherwise he goes ka-blooey. Now Nick must win favor with Chet so they can obtain the money and stay alive, because that’s what friends are for.
Thus enacts another R-rated action comedy, full of mismatched bromance clichés, and undeveloped dialogue. Fleischer compartmentalizes the arc of the story with different genres, building a questionable fortress of thriller mentality upon comedic lulls of doped out slackers. It stacks higher and higher still lacking a foundation for any emotional resonance to support it. It eventually topples due to its insistence of giving just slight variations to all of its one-dimensional characters, specifically Danny McBride’s unique talent of perversely playing men with crude humor and intentions. It was somewhat fitting in Pineapple Express, a very similarly toned film to Less, but has now worn out its welcome along with its haircut.
Fleischer’s work in his 2009 hit Zombieland was a strange mix of quirky and bold, having no real beginning, middle, or end but containing a logistical climax and emotional, personal gravitas. His focus on tag team duos is portrayed again, but in this case, developmentally there is nowhere to go. Its cut and dry nature quizzically reduces any ability to connect with someone, a film sunk in heaps of apathy even as Nick’s timer counts down. Eisenberg’s ability is shriveled as he humorously refers to himself as “off the grid” in reference to his Facebook updating. Menial jokes like these only attempt to replace authentic comedic timing, instead substituted with coarse jokes that fill the air with unnecessary space.
Aziz Ansari is the mere bright spot in his first major on-screen role. Though he lacks flexibility from screenwriter Michael Diliberti, his insightful and panic-filled comedy escapes the doldrums of a pitted chemistry with Eisenberg. He, unlike co-star and co-comedian Nick Swardson, uses his style to give an unforced creation of his life: dull, but room for promise. Yet even his unique comedic concepts drown in the quotable lines of vulgarity spewed from a Todd Phillips inspired mouth. The film’s implausible car chases and subsequent crashes along with its ill-timed soundtrack features like the “The Heat is On” wallow in a 1980’s nostalgia that has little to do with a vengeful pizza boy and his perfunctory sense of demise.
Other comedic journeys in recent memory have failed because of an insistence to use reality as a sticking point for its own musings. The Other Guys is a prime example, using the buddy-cop genre to tackle the corrupt investors of the world that ultimately bring in ill-timed baggage. Less succeeds in this regard, never taking itself too seriously. The bank robbery itself in the city of Grand Rapids is enough to make the front page, leaving out federal marshals or corporate big-wigs that could easily make a simple plot turn into complex hysteria.
Yet while this film does not intend on delivering a bold, brassy statement, it does so inadvertently. Dwayne’s father, the former marine, becomes the perfect embodiment of financial irresponsibility, blowing his lottery winnings on a Winnebago and excess pickup trucks. His framed state check in the hallway cleverly explains this ineptitude: ten million dollars and “no cents.” Unfortunately, this is a trait of many, and clearly (or cleverly) many in Hollywood as well.