It's great to see Jesse Eisenberg break out of his nebbish trap, just a bit, as a swaggering, sarcastic slacker in 30 Minutes or Less, his latest collaboration with his Zombieland director. But it's sad to see that Danny McBride can't escape his raunchy redneck-rube niche.
Their combination — Eisenberg as a pizza delivery guy kidnapped, strapped into a bomb vest and made by McBride's dopey thug to rob a bank — makes 30 Minutes a fitfully funny farce, a caper comedy with blood and bad language. It's amusing at times, yet it feels like a letdown after Ruben Fleischer's gonzo Zombieland. For all the need for speed that this very short movie's title implies, 30 Minutes lacks urgency.
Eisenberg plays Nick, a 26-year-old who hasn't made much of his life in Grand Rapids, Mich. But he is the master of his craft: delivering pizzas. He knows the streets and isn't shy about driving the daylights out of his ancient, ugly '80s-era Mustang. No mere customer is going to trick him into giving up a free pizza. Nick has a pizza chef bobble-head doll with a timer in it on his dashboard.
Nick bickers with his best friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari of TV's Parks & Recreation), and crushes on Chet's sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). That leads to a rift that will last mere hours, because Nick is going to need Chet's help — and how.
McBride is Dwayne, an arrogant, ignorant bully who dreams of hiring a hit man to kill his ex-Marine lottery-winning dad (Fred Ward, hilarious). Dwayne and his pal Travis (Nick Swardson) stop playing video games and playing with firearms and firecrackers long enough to cook up a scheme. They go to an abandoned junk yard, order a pizza, drug Nick and strap him into a bomb vest. Rob a bank for us and bring us $100,000, or we'll blow you to bits.
Nick goes to Chet, a history teacher, for help.
"This is literally ticking right now," he pleads, showing Chet the vest.
"And your first thought was to come to a school filled with children?"
They scramble to plan the robbery, downing energy drinks, stealing a neighbor's faster car, all the while watched by and threatened by dopey Dwayne and his acolyte Travis.
Fleischer stages the robbery with gusto, embracing the clumsiness, the accidents that happen when young guys on speed and no experience try to get out the door with the loot. Random scenes deliver huge laughs — shopping for ski masks and toy guns, panic-stricken efforts to defuse the vest.
Eisenberg and Ansari — who was cast for more than just matching Eisenberg's height — click as "buddies." A couple of their scenes play like rap routines — swapping lines, finishing each other's thoughts. Michael Peña (World Trade Center) shows a gift for comedy as the funny-talking hit man who can't quite figure out where his money is and who is supposed to provide it.
The dialogue is a snowstorm of swear words, played for shock value. And despite an invigorating chase and some violent and violently funny bits, the pacing is haphazard, as if characters need reminding that the clock is ticking.
There's too much cheese, but there are enough amusing action beats and funny one-liners to let one say that 30 Minutes or Less delivers, more or less on time.