Rearview Mirror: “30 Minutes or Less”

On its 10th anniversary, we revisit the junior-varsity bro comedy that was almost certainly inspired by an actual gruesome crime.

Welcome to Rearview Mirror, a monthly movie column in which I re-view and then re-review a movie I have already seen under the new (and improved?) critical lens of 2021. I’m so happy you’re here.

2011’s 30 Minutes or Less arrived at the intersection of a few cultural trends that have since gone by the wayside. There was Jesse Eisenberg’s brief, fitful career as an action-comedy star (Zombieland came out in 2009, not to be confused with Adventureland, which also came out in 2009; Now You See Me would premiere in 2013, followed by American Ultra in 2015), and Aziz Ansari’s brief stab at stardom, playing sidekicks in this, Get Him to the Greek the year before, and This Is the End two years later. Also starring Nick Swardson and Danny McBride, it feels a little bit like the B-team, the junior varsity squad of the bro comedies of the era. If you loved James Franco and Seth Rogen getting caught up in some criminal nonsense in Pineapple Express, you’ll probably enjoy this movie starring…their friends! Except that, mostly, people didn’t. The movie holds a low-40s score on Rotten Tomatoes from both critics and audiences. (Speaking of norms getting caught up in the criminal underworld, Date Night came out the year before. Also featuring a Franco cameo. It’s all connected.)

Much of the dialogue, too, feels tired, dated, specific to the era. An Indian-American character is referred to as “Slumdog,” which struck me as being a joke they must have known wouldn’t age well. Ah yes, referring to the one movie about Indian people that Americans have seen, even if it came out three years ago, hilarious. There’s a Moviefone joke and a recurring “That’s what she said” gag, to really hammer the era home. There’s plenty of gay and trans panic, though it doesn’t rise to the level of hatred—just, in my opinion, a lazy kind of ignorance. Ansari’s entire character motivation is stopping Eisenberg from sleeping with his pretty twin sister, denying the only female character in the entire movie any agency or personhood, but did you walk in expecting a cutting feminist satire? No, you bought the ticket because Franco and Rogen were busy. Oh, and speaking of dated, Franco and Ansari. I’ll let you make up your own minds there.

I saw the movie in theaters and remember really liking it, probably because I’d disliked Pineapple Express so much and had low expectations going in (I know the creative teams on the two movies are different, but both posters featured Danny McBride holding a weapon, so in my young mind, they were the same). I remember thinking it was funny. And that’s all I remember, besides the plot, which is sort of simple and perfect in that this-is-how-you-write-a-screenplay-with-an-antagonist-and-rising-stakes kind of way. Two dirtbags (Swardson and McBride) want to hire a hitman (Michael Peña) to off McBride’s rich father so he can inherit a couple million, but they need cash upfront to pay the assassin, so they strap a bomb to a pizza deliveryman’s (Eisenberg) chest and tell him to rob a bank. The delivery man enlists his teacher best friend (Ansari) to help with the robbery and ensuing escape. The whole thing unfolds over the course of a couple days.

It feels a little bit like the B-team, the junior varsity squad of the bro comedies of the era. If you loved James Franco and Seth Rogen getting caught up in some criminal nonsense in Pineapple Express, you’ll probably enjoy this movie starring…their friends!

What I didn’t know at the time is that the movie was either inspired by or bears an uncanny resemblance to a real crime that happened in 2003, when a pizza delivery man robbed a bank while wearing a bomb collar he said had been forced onto him. Except that device ended up killing him (spoiler: Eisenberg survives in 30 Minutes or Less). The full story, which Wired covered in depth, is actually much more interesting and complicated than the one in the movie, and got the true crime treatment in 2018 in a four-part series called Evil Genius produced by…the Duplass brothers. OK!

I’ll let you make up your own mind about the ethics of fiction loosely inspired by real crimes, as well. I can’t imagine a cheesy comedy like 30 Minutes or Less is any more or less corrosive to society than true crime docs themselves, and certainly both pale in comparison to actual murder. But if the death of Brian Wells makes you want to skip this one, I get it. Just know that this is certainly a cheesy comedy. It’s got too much yelling and not enough jokes, a lot of swearing and too few surprises, but it goes down as easy as, well, cheap pizza. The dirtbag chicanery isn’t exactly inspired, but at least it’s not boring, and the filmmakers seem to know exactly what they have on their hands, and what they don’t. They don’t ask the audience to feel much or learn much or follow too many plot complications. You can have it on in the background while you smoke or snack or clean your apartment.

And while Ansari may have fallen from grace in the decade since the movie’s premiere, Danny McBride has become one of my favorite writers-performers. He was already well established at the time but, frankly, I wasn’t watching Eastbound & Down when it aired, so I didn’t really get his whole deal. But I love what he and David Gordon Green are doing with the Halloween franchise, and I thought The Righteous Gemstones was one of the best new shows of the past couple years. That genius isn’t on display here, but he’s still a charming performer.

Ultimately, the movie is as forgettable now as it was then, neither crass enough to stick in my mind nor fun enough to merit a re-watch with friends. But there are a number of lines that made me laugh and, to save you the trouble of streaming it yourself, here they all are:

“I Netflixed [The Hurt Locker] like six months ago, it’s just been sitting on my coffee table. So dumb, I pay like $12.99 a month and just keep the same three movies at my house.”

“I taught myself how to eat pussy and cut my own hair”

“If I let you go and you explode or whatever, this shit will come back and eat at my conscience and affect my relationships with other people. Like my future wife and kids and shit. We’re having a picnic or something one day and I would just be like, ‘Dammit, I shouldn’t have let Nick explode that time.’”

“Not into rape, just into sliders” FL


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