There are certain comedies that find gratuitous vulgarity, in and of itself, to be hilarious. These films shy away from any thoughtful comedic buildup that would develop the timing, context and irony necessary for a rewarding payoff. They simply go for the knee-jerk laughter that sometimes comes as a result of hearing a dirty word. “30 Minutes or Less” is one of these films.
The story follows Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a full-time slacker who moonlights as a pizza delivery man. One night on the job, Nick is drugged by two criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and wakes up to find a bomb strapped to his chest; he is informed that the bomb will detonate, if he does not supply the criminals with $100,000 in the next 10 hours. Nick then frantically sets out to rob a bank with the help of his reluctant friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), but soon finds that matters are going to become much more complicated.
If “30 Minutes” suffers from only one problem (and there are a few), it is that its approach toward comedy is remarkably limited. The film has two basic approaches. The first is to have Nick and Chet yell at each other. With this approach, comedy is theoretically linked to volume; the louder, the funnier. This results in scene after scene of characters screaming. After 15 minutes of it, the urgency of whatever is being said is lost, and it all blends into a dull, unpleasant cacophony.
The film’s second comedic approach is to have Danny McBride be Danny McBride.
McBride is a one-note comedic actor: He swears and makes crude, sexually explicit comments with a deadpan expression. This was amusing in some of his earlier films, but it has now become woefully boring. Profanity doesn’t personally offend me but stupidity does; and it is by all means stupid to rely entirely on the supposed shock value of a few four-letter words.
“30 Minutes or Less” is one of the poorer examples of the surge of profanity-laden comedies released in recent years (the era of Judd Apatow). Comparatively, “Horrible Bosses” maintained an intense degree of blue humor and language throughout its run time, but it did not use vulgarity as a crutch, rather as an extension of the burlesque nature of its subject matter. What “30 Minutes” lacks is any justification for its mind-numbing crassness — no irony, clever wordplay, comedic buildup or substantial payoff. There is only the dubious satisfaction of watching a bunch of slackers run around yelling and cursing. What a load of #%&@!
Devin Vaughn, a former Princeton resident, resides in Cambridge, Mass. He can be reached at email@example.com.