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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: 30 Minutes or Less

30 Minutes or Less (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Ruben Fleischer, 2011

The first 30 minutes of 30 Minutes or Less — a darkish heist comedy from the director (Ruben Fleischer) and co-star (Jesse Eisenberg) of Zombieland — are actually pretty funny. Two sets of smart, funny actors (Eisenberg & Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride & Nick Swardson) get into their most unpretentious dumb-and-dirty-mouth mode and dispense some fairly edgy, balls-out dialogue delivered dead pan at frenetic speed, while ridiculous things are happening. It reminded me a little of Abbott & Costello‘s stuff, if Abbott & Costello were pizza delivery guys pursued by deranged murderers (which is the kind of thing Abbott & Costello often did).

But the last 58 minutes or so of 30 Minutes or Less, get so preposterously out to lunch that not even two sets of talented buddy-buddy actors, and a bomb strapped to Eisenberg’s chest can save things. It’s a comedy about two reasonably smart but hapless doofuses (Eisenberg and Ansari) who fall into the clutches of a couple of murderous nincompoops (McBride and Swardson), and get involved in one of the more idiotic bank robberies ever imagined. That idiocy unfortunately isn’t enough to keep the movie funny. But it does pass the time — in the way that playing tiddlywinks or gin rummy with eccentric strangers on a rainy night in a cheap motel lobby might.

Here’s the mazooza-ganoola (an Abbott & Costello sort of word). We‘re in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the lower-rent and dopey side of town. Eisenberg is Nick, a whippet swift pizza delivery guy for Vito‘s Pizza, who delivers his pizza in, you guessed it, 30 minutes or less (or it’s free), and who brags that he never uses Face book. (Get it? Eisenberg? Face book?) Ansari is his best friend Chet, an elementary school teacher whose twin sister Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) is Nick‘s big crush — which pisses off Chet.

On the higher-rent and dopey side of town, Fred Ward is the Major, a surly macho Marine who won a lottery, and now lives in sort-of-luxury (at least for Grand Rapids), while hurling contempt on his son Dwayne (McBride), an ill-tempered macho jerk and egotistical ding-a-ling whom the Major employs as his pool cleaner, along with Dwayne‘s even dumber (but halfway human) hanger-on/buddy Travis (Swardson).

Dwayne, incensed at his father’s endless stream of disrespect and vicious insults, is impatient for his inheritance, and consumed by his grand fantasy of using what’s left of the lottery money to open up a combination tanning salon and whorehouse. One night, brooding, he runs into a mean little stripper named Juicy (Bianc Kajlich), who suggests that he knock off Pops with the help of a hit man she knows named Chango (Michael Pena, very good), and then enjoy her lap dances, just for him, forever. (Chango of course, unbeknownst to Dwayne, is Juicy‘s main squeeze.) The killer’s fee; $100, 000.

How can a buffoon like Dwayne get a hold of $100,000? Rob a bank, naturally. And how does he plan on cracking that bank? By dressing up in ape suits together with Travis, abducting some poor schmuck, wiring him with a C4 explosives vest, and giving him ten hours to rob a local bank or get blown up — while also promising to trail him everywhere to make sure he doesn‘t contact the police. Hmm…And who is that schmuck? Obviously some guy involved with pizzas who doesn’t use Face book.

Now, this absurd scheme is actually based on a real life bank robbery which ended violently and tragically. But what makes the movie truly ludicrous — outrageously ludicrous, incomprehensibly ludicrous — are the reactions of Nick and Chet to this plot. Chet forgets their tiff and rushes to his pal’s aid, ultimately joining him in the bank robbery, and not contacting the cops. Nick runs all around Grand Rapids, tries to settle his romance with Kate, and engages in high-speed car chases — despite the bomb and despite the two gun-packing bozos on his trail.

This movie may have invented a new sub-genre: idiot noir. The ending, which will remain unspilled (except to reveal that Grand Rapids still lacks a proper combination tanning salon and whorehouse), is annoying as hell. In fact the whole movie is annoying as hell. Cinematically, it’s okay. Comedically, its helter-skelter. Morally, it’s obtuse. And though it has a very good cast — Pena, McBride and Swardson are the standouts — they’re all, thanks to screenwriter Michael Diliberti, up to no damned good.

Still, that first 30 minutes was pretty entertaining. The actors are on. The dialogue had snap. Maybe, if you time everything right, you can leave 30 Minutes or Less after the first half hour, and have a pizza waiting for you at the concession stand. I like pepperoni myself.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon