Potential is wasted in the latest comedy “30 Minutes or Less.” Despite a talented cast and a director who has shown the ability to create a dark - yet funny - comedy, this is a film that never quite fires on all cylinders. There are some good moments here and there, but it’s ultimately a comedy with more valleys than peaks.
The problems begin with the slightly convoluted plot.
Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson) are two fledgling criminals who hatch a plan to force someone to rob a bank. They plan to use that money to hire a hitman who will kill Dwayne’s father (Fred Ward), a former Marine who won $10 million in the lottery.
Dwayne and Travis select a pizza delivery guy named Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) to rob the bank, strapping a bomb to his chest and giving him 20 hours to finish the task.
With the help of lifelong friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), Nick sets out to save himself and get Dwayne and Travis the money before his time runs out.
“30 Minutes or Less” doesn’t waste any time, clocking in at a brisk 83 minutes. It feels a lot longer though, as many of the jokes and (supposed) witty banter continually fall short of the mark.
The bank robbery scene and the performance by Ansari stand out as quality moments. For the most part, however, talented people such as Eisenberg and McBride offer variations of the same characters they’ve been playing for the past few years.
Then there is the odd performance from Michael Pena as the hitman. I’m still not sure what is supposed to be funny about his odd mannerisms and speech - I just found it to be strange.
That performance is a microcosm of the entire film, which stays busy and is always on the move, yet never seems to go anywhere.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is the oddball theatrical flop “The Beaver” (B-), an uneven family drama that draws strength from a fascinating performance by Mel Gibson.
In a case of art imitating life, Gibson plays Walter Black, a toy company executive who suffers a mental breakdown that includes a suicide attempt. Walter’s spiral is slowed when he finds a beaver hand puppet and begins to use it as his sole means of communicating.
At first the puppet works wonders, but it doesn’t take long for his family and friends to realize that Walter may not be well after all.
I’ll admit the premise is a tough sell, and that probably contributed to the tepid box office returns.
To director Jodi Foster’s credit, she takes a straightforward approach that never undermines Walter’s severe issues - and for the most part I bought into it.
Gibson helps make it tolerable. There is something dynamic about his performance, especially when compared with his real-life meltdowns, which actually helped delay the release of “The Beaver.” At times this movie is uncomfortable to watch because Gibson’s work seems to be a gray area where it is hard to distinguish the character from the actor.
But without Gibson, I don’t see how this would have worked. The story starts out promising but slowly loses steam - especially in the final third. There are other talented people here - including Foster as Walter’s wife; Anton Yelchin as Walter’s defiant son Porter, who has his own problems; and Jennifer Lawrence as Porter’s high school classmate - but their interactions with Gibson’s character and one another don’t have quite the same dramatic impact as Gibson.
Watching his work in “The Beaver” is uncomfortable and disturbing, but it is also the reason this movie deserves a second chance on DVD.
“The Beaver” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference, and will be available Tuesday on DVD.