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‘30 Minutes or Less’ is a pretty good action movie

By Jelani Yancey

Ruben Fleischer has made a second comedy-adventure movie. His first one, “Zombieland,” was mildly successful. Its good cast included Emma Stone, a current Hollywood favorite, and Abigail Breslin. The show moved around pretty well. Bill Murray played himself in a delightful passage that set up the film’s one big joke.

Fleischer’s new movie is, really, second verse, same as the first. “30 Minutes or Less” is a comedy-adventure, light on the comedy. It features Danny McBride, a recently past Hollywood favorite, and Jesse Eisenberg. It takes us all over Grand Rapids, Michigan, never stopping anywhere for very long. In fact, this is a pretty good action movie.

Here’s its plot: a slacker (“You had Lunchables for dinner last night”) pizza-delivery driver named Nick (Eisenberg) is captured and chloroformed by a slightly older slacker pool boy named Dwayne (McBride, who you may know from “Pineapple Express” and “Tropic Thunder”).

While Nick is out, Dwayne’s partner in crime Travis (Nick Swardson) locks a suicide vest of explosives onto the driver. When he awakens, he has nine hours to get $100,000 for the masked Dwayne, who will be watching him. If Nick fails to deliver the money, the bomb will go off. If Nick goes to the cops, Dwayne has a remote control to set the bomb off immediately.

Nick asks his schoolteacher friend Chet (Asis Ansari) to help him and visits the love of his life, Chet’s twin sister Kate, before going to a bank while wearing a ski mask and wielding a toy gun. He gets the bag o’ cash and sets out for the rendezvous.

Dwayne wants the money to pay a hit man, Chango (Michael Pena) who will then kill Dwayne’s millionaire father (Fred Ward). When Chango shows up and tries to take the money from Nick without giving him the code to decommission the bomb, pizza boy runs off with the loot. He calls Dwayne on the disposable phone he was provided and arranges a second drop.

This time Dwayne shows up at the deserted scrap yard with the code, and he has Kate as a hostage. But Chango is lurking nearby. And Travis is there and may not be trustworthy. And Chet has taken the high ground. How will this stand-off be resolved?

Or, more to the point, does this sound like the story of a comedy movie? What with the foot and car chases, the goodbye kiss, the references to “Point Break,” the kidnappings and hold-ups and con jobs and underworld references, this is more like the story of a Jason Statham movie than of an Adam Sandler one.

The humor has been affixed to the story, rather than arising naturally from it. Almost all of what’s intended as comedy here comes from the rivalry between Nick and Chet, which isn’t funny, and the wise-cracks of McBride, usually conversational rephrasings of slang for elimination or oral sex delivered by his patented (and now tired) clueless egomaniac character. Twice the film makes fun of its own inability to come up with jokes by having its characters discuss applications of “That’s what she said,” a joke formula common in campus conversations twenty years ago.

So maybe this is the Fleischer scheme. Make a decent action movie. Throw in a comedian as a character and ask him to get some laughs.

This will work when Bill Murray’s your comedian, and when you only have him for a couple of day’s filming. It will only work with McBride if your audience either hasn’t heard his routine before or if they have and aren’t yet tired of it. I wasn’t in the second group.

But I did like the action story in “Thirty Minutes or Less.” And sometimes half a movie is better than none.

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