Walter Mencken 10:17 a.m., Dec. 18
Review: 30 Minutes or Less
Photo at left: McBride
Fine. I will sit up in my sickbed just long enough to let y'all know about this here new movie that's coming out today. Just don't expect much more than a numbered list.
I'm still puzzling over why I liked 30 Minutes or Less better than, say, The Hangover Part II, or Bad Teacher, or Horrible Bosses, or any of the summer's other raunch comedies. A few possibilities:
A congruence to the raunch. I get the comedic appeal of the fish out of water - crassness finding its way into the world of the supposedly sophisticated - but I think maybe it's been overworked of late. Not here. Instead of watching handsome professional Bradley Cooper angrily break out the c-word at breakfast in a family restaurant (ooh, there are old folks present!) I'm watching a white-trash man-child straining to explicate euphemisms for oral sex to a stripper. Forget wry straight man Jason Bateman wincing as he listens to Jamie Foxx explain his obscene nickname; 30 Minutes or Less has a hero who's still delivering pizzas eight years after high school (smart-dumb Jesse Eisenberg) dropping the "I slept with your sister!" bomb on his best friend (manic-panic Aziz Ansari) during an argument. Raunch is simply the lingua franca for these people, and their comfort with it is somehow refreshing.
Characters I believed. I dunno, they all just made sense to me – starting with would-be criminal mastermind Danny McBride (“I sleep late because I’ve got so many goddam dreams”). His dad’s a ball-busting Marine who won the lottery and then can’t understand why his son is a slacker. He seems to hope that humiliation will spur his progeny to manly action, but instead, McBride winds up like a beaten dog: mean and furtive, skulking and scheming as he licks his wounds. Also canine: his marginally more functional buddy Nick Swarsdon, a sweet guy who knows no virtue but loyalty to his friend.
Their opposites are two youngsters (Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari) who are still struggling to emote above a fifth grade level because no one showed them how to grow up. Instead, they’re products of mass culture. They’re dead serious when they express regret over not seeing The Hurt Locker for advice on bomb defusing, and again when they look to Point Blank for bank robbery tips. And just like good members of Generation Facebook, they’re painfully self-aware and yet unable to do much with the awareness. (They can’t simply get into a car chase, they have to comment on the fact that they’re in a car chase – shortly before getting taken out of the car chase because they are distracted.)
A Fargo-style, bungle-heavy caper at its heart. McBride concocts a plan to pay a hit man to kill his father, but he needs to rob a bank to get the money to pay the hit man. So he turns to another proxy: pizza delivery guy Eisenberg, coaxed into cooperation by a bomb strapped to his chest. Many, many things go wrong along the way. I believed pretty much all of them. I mean, not really believed – the whole thing is preposterous, and knows it – but believed in the sense of, “Yes, of course things would go wrong in just that way.”
A genuine mean streak. Again and again, I thought of Fargo, which had at its center a guy willing to fake the kidnapping of his wife in order to get money out of his father-in-law. Dark humor grounded in human folly. This was Fargo-lite; the mayhem was a little less visceral (no wood-chippers) and the characters a little less indelible, but there was still some real malice down deep: the junkyard morality of the desperate. As a result, the few acts of human decency shone like the proverbial diamond in the manure pile.
A sense of its own proportions. The film is 83 minutes long, which is probably just as long as it should be.
Some genuine laughs that arise from the story itself to go along with all the zings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Yes, I can see that my numbering is off. No idea why. Now where’s my medication?
More like this:
- Warning: Read the bank's fine print — July 31, 2013
- Community group crashes Carlsbad banking convention — March 14, 2013
- Funny Business with Margaret Cho and Aziz Ansari, and Adams Avenue Goes Off — Sept. 22, 2010
- Things That Go Boom!! — April 13, 2006
- Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories — Feb. 16, 2006