One of the famous lines from “The Social Network” brings with it the following message: if you have an idea, actualize it yourself. That’s basically the foundation of the film, too, as it’s structured around the legal matter of two guys who got someone else to do the work, and then that someone seemingly ran away with the idea and reaped the glorious rewards. Something similar occurs in Ruben Fleischer’s “30 Minutes or Less,” which just so happens to be Jesse Eisenberg’s first onscreen role since earning an Oscar nod for playing that alleged idea thief. In the new film, which is very loosely lifted from a tragic true story, two guys with a simple plan get Eisenberg to carry it out. Here it’s a bank robbery, instead of a website idea, and to make sure he doesn’t screw the guys over, he’s been strapped with a bomb. If only the Winklevi had thought of something so safeguarding.
To a great extent, “30 Minutes” is an excellent antithesis to “The Social Network,” and the movie doesn’t shy away from reflexively alluding to the earlier Eisenberg movie. Right away his character, named Nick, actually says he’s not on Facebook. A winking joke, sure, but also a good way to get us thinking about the characters at hand. Contrary to Mark Zuckerberg, Nick is entirely lacking in ambition. If he’s smart, we don’t get wind of it, though his job as a pizza delivery boy seems beneath him, yet also sort of too much of a bother. He means to quit the job in spite of having no other prospects. Somewhat fortuitously, it takes two unemployed idiots (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) with worse cases of arrested development to force some sort of motivation onto him. It’s motivation to commit a crime, but along the way he also gets nerve to tell a girl (Dilshad Vadsaria) how he really feels about her. Of course, that’s partly motivated by the fact he thinks he might die.
In this economy, it’s appropriate to have some “get rich quick” plots at the multiplex, and here we have a hilarious return to the most mindless schemes of all. “The Social Network” deals in ideas that only appear easy, just as website concepts were previously perceived back during the Dot-com bubble. Yet they do indeed take a lot of work, intelligence, strategy and, most importantly, initial financing. Getting the notion to invent Facebook is a long way from inventing Facebook. “30 Minutes” features few people who got where they are with hard work. For instance, McBride’s character’s father (Fred Ward) may have done a lot while serving in the Marines, but he’s now a millionaire thanks to the lottery. However, luck and laziness can’t be depended on alone. The lotto winner is said to have spent a lot of money on tickets before winning.
But can zero effort and zero funds work, too? In order for McBride’s character to start his dream of owning a massage parlor (really a front for a brothel), he needs capital, which he’ll get by inheriting it from his dad, who he’ll have to have killed, which will cost $100,000 for the hit man (Michael Peña), who he’ll pay from a bank loot, which will be stolen by a stranger whom he forces under lethal threat using the craftsmanship of his best friend (Swardson, who, speaking of theft, really steals the film). You can’t go by the tradition of bank heist films to foresee if that all works out, because sometimes the antihero does win in the end. Still, there is consistency in the message, which isn’t that crime doesn’t pay but that lack of effort doesn’t pay. Only one person has legitimate ambition: Nick’s crush is contrasted with him by aiming to attend training for hotel management, which through hard work will put her above all the other service-based characters in the movie.
Here are some other aspects of the film that keep with the theme: pizza delivery is for people too lazy to leave their home to pick up their own food, let alone make it; those lazy customers attempt to scam the pizzeria’s titular rule so they can get something for nothing; Netflix is joked about as a service for lazy people to rent movies without leaving the home but who are also too lazy to watch, send back or otherwise attend to the received DVDs; a stripper (Bianca Kajlich) represents both her own facile means of making big money and her customer’s shortcut to sexual pleasure; Nick’s friend and accomplice, Dwayne (Aziz Ansari), tries to find a way to disarm a bomb on Wikipedia, a site growing in repute yet still understood as the lazy man’s source for information; many mentions and allusions to movies such as “Die Hard,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Point Break” and “The Hurt Locker” (big ups to Bigelow for the double duty) as a way of hinting that lazy people think they can learn how to do things just from watching movies.
Another consistent theme of “30 Minutes” is friendship, which additionally relates it to “The Social Network.” The dichotomy between the duos of Eisenberg & Ansari and McBride & Swardson, as well as the dichotomies within each pair, is where most of the comedy and overall entertainment lies. And thematically it’s these friendships that work to their characters’ full benefit, as well. That’s quite antithetical to Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg character, who ends up on top fairly alone and exhibiting unsocial if not antisocial behavior. The moral of “30 Minutes” might be simply that friends are more important than riches, so don’t look to it for any moneymaking inspiration, legal or not. Also, the key to a good, lucrative screenplay is more than just an inkling of an idea taken from the headlines, as this one was. And collaborators (also appropriately best friends, I hope) Matthew Sullivan & Michael Diliberti display the talent and effort that gets the job done well.
“30 Minutes or Less” opens tomorrow nationwide.
Recommended If You Like: “The Social Network”; “Pineapple Express”; “Stir Crazy”