Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is a pizza delivery guy with exceedingly low ambitions, one of those guys who doesn't really enjoy what he's doing but doesn't have the drive to change it. With his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) not speaking to him and his semi-girlfriend moving, things can't get much worse in Nick's mind. That soon changes, however, when he takes a late-night delivery run to a construction site and finds himself confronted by Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), two would-be thieves in gorilla masks. In order to obtain the money needed to get a business idea off the ground, Dwayne and Travis strap a home-made bomb to Nick's chest and force him to rob a bank. Frantic, Nick enlists the help of Chet and the pair stumble through a series of obstacles on the way to pulling off a heist and subsequent money exchange.
There were reasons to think that 30 Minutes or Less would be a solid comedy. The reunion of Eisenberg with director Ruben Fleischer was one reason. Their compilation in Zombieland was nothing short of hilarious and that film itself ranks exceptionally high on the re-watchability scale. Then there is the inclusion of Aziz, one of the single funniest humans on the planet. (If you need references on that statement, look no further than his brilliant portrayal on Park and Recreation or his most recent stand-up album which might be one of the best ever). The concept itself has appeal and potential as a perfect way to spend an evening. Where 30 Minutes succeeds is when these three elements come together: the best portions of the concept come alive when it is just Eisenberg and Ansari working together and running through crazy situations. One stretch in particular that sees the pair buy all the necessary equipment for a heist followed by the robbery itself is quite humorous and serves as a taste of what could have been.
But here's why Zombieland works while 30 Minutes falls flat: Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone (not to mention an unnamed cameo in case anyone out there hasn't seen the movie). The supporting characters at play in Zombieland are fantastic, whereas this time around Fleischer surrounds his leads with McBride, Swardson, and Michael Pena, a threesome that is rarely funny in my book. (McBride has his moments but generally speaking, he is at his best when he's the eighth-billed actor. Examples: Tropic Thunder and Up in the Air.) To make matters worse, Fleischer insists on developing a pointless storyline involving Dwayne and Travis that brings absolutely nothing to the movie other than lengthening the runtime. Every moment within 30 Minutes that is spent away from Nick and Chet is at best lackluster and at worst barely watchable. It's quite clear that Fleischer and his team of writers couldn't draw enough out of the main plotline to fill 83 minutes so they turned to the side plots that do nothing but distract from the central figures. As a result, the Dwayne and Travis narrative comes across as nothing more than filler. And let's be honest: if you need filler for an 83 minute movie, your movie isn't very good.