For a movie about four slackers, “30 Minutes or Less” feels like it’s in an awfully big hurry to be over. Maybe that’s because the characters — a couple of dorks forced into robbing a bank by a couple of lowlifes too lazy to do it themselves — aren’t much fun to be around, forcing “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer to race through the action while shortchanging the double-barreled bromance at its core. Still, as junk-food comedy goes, “Less” packs a surprising number of laughs into its brisk running time, suggesting decent theatrical prospects with sturdy homevid to follow.
Nick (Jesse Eisenberg, typecast as the uneasy white guy) hates his job, which involves driving like a maniac as he tries to deliver pizzas within an impossibly tight “30 minutes or less” time frame. He doesn’t get much sympathy from best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), who seems to appreciate that Nick’s loser lifestyle makes his own meager accomplishments look grown-up by comparison. As amigos go, they don’t have much in common, apart from the fact that the best years of their lives are behind them and the next 24 hours are about to get a lot worse.
Across town, equally mismatched buddies Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) have hatched an elaborate scheme that involves kidnapping a pizza guy, strapping an explosive vest to his chest and ordering him to steal $100,000. Not since “Fargo” has a get-rich-quick scheme spiraled so disastrously out of control so fast, only unlike that film (with its phony “true story” claims), “Less” was clearly inspired by the stranger-than-fiction case of Brian Wells, who attempted to rob a bank while wearing a collar bomb (and died after the device detonated).
Seizing on the comic absurdity of the situation, first-time writer Michael Diliberti fashions the preposterous backstory cops later uncovered into the basis for his screenplay: Dwayne allows an exotic dancer (Bianca Kajlich) to talk him into ordering a hit on his own father (Fred Ward), but before he can get his hands on the old man’s inheritance, he needs to raise enough money to pay the assassin (Michael Pena). Rather than expose himself, he decides to enlist the help of a hapless pizza jockey.
Twisting the details into an irreverent comedy, the way bad-taste enthusiast John Waters might, the pic nevertheless lacks the wickedly anarchic flair of satires like “Serial Mom” and “Cecil B. Demented.” Instead, “Less” feels more like a watered-down and streamlined “Pineapple Express,” with double that film’s McBride brio. Clocking in at a mercifully short 83 minutes, pic spares us the endless ad-libbing, but isn’t nearly as tight as its title implies.
Dwayne gives Nick 10 hours to knock over the bank — plenty of time to enlist his shrill Indian pal, steal a neighbor’s Datsun and stock up on all the necessary supplies (one of the funnier scenes involves trying not to attract suspicion while buying plastic guns, ski masks and several 5-Hour Energy shots). The robbery itself proves to be an unexpected bonding experience for the duo, who have been on uneasy terms the entire afternoon after Nick confessed to deflowering Chet’s twin sister (Dilshad Vadsaria).
With women good only for objectifying in this testosterone-choked comedy, Nick and Dwayne try to work out whatever deep-buried feelings they have for their respective guy buds. If his shouty shtick weren’t so grating, Ansari might actually come off as endearing, refusing to abandon his time-bomb-strapped friend. Meanwhile, even without his usual mullet, McBride has the white-trash buffoon routine cornered, playing it up to such a degree auds can’t help but sympathize with Swardson’s put-upon accomplice. Pena is a scene-stealer, taking an unfortunate Latino stereotype and giving it a twist of Jack Sparrow-like eccentricity, while “Greek’s” Vadsaria makes an unconvincing twin for Ansari, evidently having inherited all the pretty genes but none of the funny ones.
They’re not a pleasant bunch to pass the time with, which leaves you half-hoping that the vest would just detonate already. Pic’s casualties aren’t permanent anyway, as demonstrated by an amusing bonus sketch that awaits those who sit through the end credits.
Fleischer has switched d.p.’s since “Zombieland,” tapping “Hot Fuzz” lenser Jess Hall for the job. Like that film, “Less” has trouble framing simple action, yielding clumsy car chases that put the burden of generating excitement on the music and editing. As a result, pic looks cheap and feels clipped — a choice that may not be entirely accidental, given the unscenic Michigan eyesores against which the film is set.