There’s something about comedies that changes immensely when you’re in a room full of other people. Jokes seem funnier, amplified by the laughter of those around you. That laughter is contagious, but when it’s lacking, the silence is contagious too. In the case of 30 Minutes or Less, the new film from Ruben Fleischer (who also directed Zombieland), the silence of the theater was a too often a indication that the movie didn’t work. It’s too bad the film is only a small step up from the type of crude, low-brow humor usually reserved for the annual “comedic satire” movie (Date Movie, Epic Movie, etc.), because the talented cast of stalwart comedians promised a film that could have been so much more.
The plot is a clever one. Two bumbling buddies coerce a pizza delivery guy into robbing a bank by strapping a bomb to his chest. He has ten hours to come up with the cash they need, or else the bomb will explode. It’s an interesting idea with a lot of comic potential, but it’s also placed under a heavy burden: most of the jokes in the film are a direct riff off of the sheer incredulity of the plot. “Oh no, there’s a bomb on my chest! How crazy and dangerous!” is most often the joke of choice. They include bringing a bomb to a school, bringing a bomb to see a girlfriend, bringing a bomb to a gun fight, bringing a bomb too close to your friend, etc. I could go on. The variety of comedy is tragically small, given the immense talent and range of the cast. The jokes become less funny over the course of the film, and, at times, 30 Minutes or Less just tries too hard to make us laugh.
The actors in the movie, while entertaining, seem to be playing less interesting versions of characters they’ve played before. Take Danny McBride, for example. His character in 30 Minutes of Less, Dwayne, is a beer drinking, stripper loving, naive, selfish burnout. He’s played this role before, as Kenny Powers in the HBO show Eastbound and Down, so you know he’s capable. As Dwayne, however, he falls flat. He’s playing a parody of another character, and it’s obvious that the writers have fallen into the common fallacy of getting their ideas from a secondhand source. A caricature of a caricature, if you will. Many of the characters in the film seem to be working this way, and, as a result, don’t seem as accessible or genuine as they should be.
One of the funniest moments in the film occurs near the very end. The audience was still laughing as the credits started to roll, and, as a result, were tricked into believing the movie was better than it is. The positive buzz generated by the ending, however, is not enough to dispel the obvious lack of laughter that occurred in too many moments throughout the film. The best comedies seem effortless, and 30 Minutes or Less is a movie that tries too hard, too often.