Okay, this is a dopey film, one you can imagine being cooked up over the course of a beery Hollywood weekend. Basically—and believe me, it's a very basic movie, running just 83 minutes—the story concerns two idiots who shanghai a not-much-brighter pizza delivery guy, strap him with a vest full of explosives, and force him to rob a bank for them or they'll use their vest-bomb remote to turn him into a drifting red mist. It's a ridiculous plan, occasioned by the alpha idiot's need for $100,000 to pay a hit man to kill his wealthy father so that the idiot can inherit dad's money and realize his dream of opening a tanning salon that would actually be a front for a whorehouse.
As preposterous as all of this sounds, the story is pretty clearly modeled on an actual 2003 Pennsylvania case involving another not-very-bright pizza delivery guy, Brian Wells, who took part—willingly, in Wells' case—in robbing a bank for two real-life idiots. Wells agreed to be fitted with what he thought was a fake time bomb; he was apprehended by police in mid-heist, though, and then discovered, in one sudden, explosive moment, that the bomb was in fact not fake.
There is, let's be honest, something absurdly humorous about this tale. But Wells' death would make it a little too heavy for a summer comedy, no matter how dumb. And so the writers who concocted 30 Minutes or Less eliminated that part (knowing this, trust me, spoils nothing) and shoveled in some less off-putting elements. Here, the Wells character, a slacker named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), has been given a best friend named Chet (Aziz Ansari). Chet is a schoolteacher, which you'd think would make him a more level-headed fellow than his pizza-shuttling pal. But after Nick, in the midst of delivering a pie, gets strong-armed into his bomb vest by the two morons, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), Chet agrees, after some token remonstrance, to help Nick out with the bank job. Why would he do that? And why wouldn't Nick go straight to the police in the first place? Are you really asking?
Also inserted into the goings-on are Chet's beautiful sister (Dilshad Vadsaria), for whom Nick nurses a secret passion; a stripper named Juicy (Bianca Kajlich); and her associate Chango (Michael Peña, very funny), a pimp who's prepared to kill Dwayne's moneybags father (Fred Ward) as soon as Dwayne comes up with the $100,000 to make it worthwhile. Inevitably, given the story's pizza delivery motif, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has also crammed in some car-chase antics, of a generally unobjectionable sort.
I can see you sneering. And yet, I found myself laughing pretty much all the way through this movie. The plot is nothing more than a rickety scaffold on which to drape a succesion of gags, many of them improvised by McBride and Swardson. (Looking back over their long, dumb friendship, Dwayne says to Travis, "Remember when we worshipped the Devil for two weeks?" And Travis replies, "Those were the best two weeks of my life.") There are also spurts of political incorrectness (Vadsaria, who is of part-Indian descent, is addressed at one point as "Slumdog."). And of course there's the customary abundance of raunch, which I'll leave for you to savor yourself.
Eisenberg is obviously over-qualified for a picture like this, but he has some nimble comic moments. And Ansari manages to be amusingly over-wound without becoming a complete annoyance. But McBride, with his familiar clueless-weasel persona, and Swardson, with his sweet, stunned-puppy delivery, were born to riff off each other, and they carry the movie. They might not be carrying it to any remotely plausible destination, but on such a short trip, you might not mind going along.
Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, will be out on November 8th from St. Martin's Press. Pre-order here. He is also on Twitter, at kurt_loder.