30 Minutes or Less: the bomb is on the screen, and it can’t tick away fast enough

by Mark Burger

A late-summer entry in the boxoffice sweepstakes, 30 Minutes or Less is at least aptly titled, as it tends to fade from memory shortly after it’s over.

Following his Oscar-nominated role in last year’s The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg returns to the nerdy Everyman he’s played so (and too) often in the past. Here he’s nerdy Everyman Nick, who has the misfortune to be strapped with explosives by a pair of bumbling bad guys (Nick Swardson and UNCSA alumnus Danny McBride), who are in desperate need of some quick cash. Unless Nick robs a bank on their behalf, it’s buttonpushing time and bye-bye, Nick.

Along with his wise-cracking best bud Chet (Aziz Ansari), our nerdy Everyman hero Nick tries to figure a way out of his precarious predicament. Loosely based on an actual incident, 30 Minutes or Less is slight and trite, a real comedown for director Reuben Fleischer, who scored (along with Eisenberg) in Zombieland two years ago.

There are some isolated inspired moments — McBride and Swardson certainly give it their all — but more often than not, 30 Minutes or Less is insipid, floundering (often badly) in search of a laugh. The always-welcome Fred Ward is on hand, in a typically amusing authoritarian role (watching him sound off at McBride and Swardson is a funny scene), but he’s off the screen too soon — never to return again.

It’s almost as if the filmmakers presumed that with the premise (not without possibilities) and the players (not without talent), the film would essentially make itself. Such is not the case. Much of the dialogue seems improvised — and not in a good way — and the situations are singularly lacking in tension or drive. 30 Minutes or Less is a tired, generic comedy, unworthy of its talents and certainly the audience’s time.