If you read those quirky, odd news stories that get linked on the sidebars of major pages, or even frequent slightly more mainstream random news sites like fark.com, you'll no doubt have heard of Brian Douglas Wells. You may not know him by name, but his reputation is...well, it's unique. A few years back, a robbery gone wrong made news all over the world, due to the way it was executed (double entendre, in this case), as the robber had a bomb strapped around his neck, claiming to be a victim, a hostage of sorts. When things didn't go as planned, the others involved in the plot detonated the weapon, killing Wells instantly. It was later revealed he was in on the plot, though his level of involvement has been debated.
Flash forward a few years, and there's '30 Minutes or Less,' a buddy comedy-slash-action flick that takes the same premise and rolls with it, claiming to not be directly inspired by one of the most insane news stories in years, one that would have made Jigsaw proud. If you're a relative of Wells...yeah, you may not be all that excited to see what led to his demise being turned into the plot device in a major Hollywood film. Then again, I doubt any of his relatives will read reviews of this flick, so I'm safe to move forward.
Jesse Eisenberg steps into the very uncomfortable, deadly situation as Nick, a pizza delivery man (same as Wells) whose job utterly stinks. He's regularly late to deliveries, making the 30 minute guarantee kryptonite to his paycheck. He has a shitty Mustang that is used and abused, a penchant for ignoring the rules of the road, and a future that looks about as bright as a burnt out headlight. The life of painful monotony and failure is going to be a thing of the past for Nick, though, when a late night delivery finds him knocked unconscious, leaving him to wake up with a nasty new piece of attire: a bomb vest that will detonate if he tries to remove it.
Fellow lifelong losers Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) have cooked up a scheme to make their victim rob a bank for them, so that they can pay a hitman (Michael Pena) to off Dwayne's dad and collect what unspent lotto winnings are left to his name, and to get that ball rolling, the local bank must be robbed. Dwayne has dreams, and that massage parlor-slash-bordello isn't going to fund itself, damn it! Nick has just ten hours to plan and execute a robbery, escape the cops, and make what may be his first on time delivery. His life depends on it.
'30 Minutes or Less' isn't bad, by any means. It's also not great. This is definitely a film with a predefined audience, with not much reach or range outside the boundaries of existing fans of the actors involved. I would say that it suffers from tone issues, with the competing buddy subplots (Eisenberg's Nick with his best pal Chet (Aziz Ansari) squaring off against McBride and Swardson) each requiring development, on top of the genre mixings found in the action-comedy mishmash, but it's safer to say that the entire film is the tone issue. It's really one of the most bizarre cinematic experiences I've had, where I didn't know whether to laugh, applaud, or cringe. Some scenes found me doing all three, in varying order. If you have a comfort zone when watching a film, it's about to be obliterated.
The comedic elements of the film are very much hit or miss, and are solely dependent on your appreciation of the actors. I personally enjoy McBride, but even I found his shtick in this one to be repetitive and tedious, nowhere near the inane prime featured in his best roles. Swardson didn't draw a single laugh from me, leaving me to believe he should stick to Adam Sandler movies, where his cinematic hate crimes are only witnessed by those willing to pay for such atrocities to be committed on them. Ansari, he's not high on my list, but he does a good enough job with his role, even if his deliveries often come through feeling very inappropriate for the words being expressed behind them. It's almost like he doesn't know how to express most emotions.
The real star of the show, outside of a few stolen scenes by Fred Ward, is Eisenberg. His role is by far the juiciest and the toughest, as he has to balance the fear of impending death and impossible odds with the need to be relatable, and, worse still, funny. It's a no-win situation, but this talented young actor pulls it off nicely. You can readily root for the kid, as he's pretty much the stupid burn out you all know and can understand, stuck in a rut, who is forced to make something of himself in a hurry, much like real life. His hair-brained ideas on how to pull it off make him even more fun to watch, including one of the most insane scenes in the film, where he and Ansari are buying items for the robbery, and the check out clerk thinks they're buying rape kits. It's a scene that anyone can relate to when they've had to buy something weird from a retail store. I still wonder why that cashier looked at me so weird when I bought a shovel and a box of Trojan Maximum.... (oh, that joke can get quite dark if you think about it...).
Anyways, '30 Minutes or Less' is an odd duck. The action elements, they're really well made, including some fun driving sequences that still manage to throw in some good comedic elements to them, as well as some solid pyrotechnics. The characters, well, outside of the lead, they all feel a little too forced and unrealistic, and the script does have a way of going for convenience and cliche, but it's still one of the fastest cinematic experiences I've had in some time. The brief run time goes by in a flash, and you're left to digest what you just witnessed. Most of it will be forgotten, sure, but there are some moments that will leave an impression, a few gags that stick. Better than many of the comedies coming out today, but definitely lacking cohesion, this is definitely a flick that will fall into love it or hate it territory.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'30 Minutes or Less' arrives on Blu-ray in just one flavor, a Blu-ray standalone release. There were rumors and announcements of a combo pack with the DVD disc, but that does not seem to have happened. The disc is a BD50 with Region A/B/C markings, with about ten minutes worth of pre-menu awfulness.
'30 Minutes or Less' makes for a solid new release on Blu-ray, with awesome 1080p picture that is as clean and clear as the film possibly could be. In fact, the only thing holding back this score is the fact that by simple comparison it doesn't stand up to the upper tier titles in terms of detail; on its own, this is one hell of a stunner! Picture depth is constant, details can bounce around but are regularly superb, and colors are bold and natural. Eisenberg's crimson red shirt can be a little awkward at times, due to its odd color, possibly with a little hint of a band here and there, but it's minor at most. There's no crush to be found, nor DNR, nor aliasing or any other annoying video anomaly. Hair is constantly defined, while faces have their moments of real crispness. Heck, even Ansari's facial hair is always perfectly crisp and clear.
If you buy this disc, you won't be disappointed in how it looks. It's a stunner, folks, a real stunner, borderline demo worthy in a few sequences, with very few hiccups.
The lossless audio featured on '30 Minutes or Less' on Blu-ray is pretty powerful, though a bit uneven. The opening shot, with the crappy Mustang leaping through the room, leads you to believe you're in for some sonic awesomeness, but instead you get sonic Swardson, aka missed potential, annoyingly so. There's some solid bass thumps, like the moment the villains are revealed, or in the soundtrack, but it's hit or miss throughout the film. Dynamics are perfect, but volume spikes here and there would have been nice, as more than a few scenes would have benefitted from such. The soundtrack really does pack a thump and a half; the bass really gets moving. Rear speakers? I wish I could say the same for them. There's really not all that much going on in them, to the point it's almost obvious and detracting.
This track is perfectly acceptable for the genre and (probably) budget constraints, but it definitely is missing that punch that the great discs have, and the activity that even solid discs boast.
This disc has a tab for previews for other Sony products, but no trailer for this film. Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
'30 Minutes or Less' is an interesting, somewhat bizarre film, where the comedy is a major hit or a major miss, with little room to fall somewhere in the middle. It has its charms, and more than a few interesting ideas or scenes, but there are a few pratfalls along the way, as well. This Blu-ray release is a stunner, to be sure, meaning this may be worth a look. Seeing as I'm not the type to blind buy comedy movies, having been burned more than a few times, I'd advise consumers to check this disc out first, and then buy it if they like it. I can see this particular film upsetting some potential customers, due to its particularly odd narrative structure.