|Image: Columbia Pictures|
Zombieland came along quite late for both the zombie craze and the horror comedy craze, but it emerged as a high-point in both. For his latest, director Ruben Fleischer has re-teamed with Jesse Eisenberg for a comedy that trades horror apocalypse for crass slackers in Detroit.
Aimless pizza boy Nick (Eisenberg) is kidnapped by thugs Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson). Dwayne and Travis need cash to hire a hitman to kill Dwayne’s dad, and unless Nick robs a bank for them, the bomb they’ve strapped to his chest will explode. Panicking, Nick turns to his best friend Chet for help.
For a significant amount of its running time 30 Minutes or Less is almost as dark as slacker comedy gets, and that’s a pretty big sub-genre. With a mix of movie-reference-heavy banter and some pretty full-on violence, the film plays like an odd mix of the harsher moments of Pineapple Express and the lighter bits of Observe and Report. Whether you’ll enjoy it or not will depend heavily on whether you can warm to Nick and Chet. They bicker, they moan, and they list the various ways in which they’ve betrayed each other. You’ll either find them funny, or you’ll wonder why you should care.
Luckily, Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Ansari (Funny People) make an excellent team. Their rapid-fire dialogue is superb, especially when their characters find themselves under pressure. It’s very much down to them that we were often laughing out loud. Swardson (Blades of Glory) is fine as the dim-witted but kinder of the two villains, and Michael Pena (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done) is hilarious as the fey, softly spoken hit-man. It’s just a shame that McBride’s character is one we’ve seen him do too many times recently. He often plays variations on the same theme, but they are normally distinguishable from each other. Dwayne’s deeply unlikeable, but he’s not consistently funny.
The script is very slight indeed and the film relies heavily on the actors to be funny during long interludes where nothing really happens. If we’re with Eisenberg and Ansari, then this tactic works fine. If we’re with McBride and Swardson, the film drags. That being said, there are some excellent set-pieces, including the bank robbery itself and the subsequent car chase. The film does slowly build towards a violent finale that will turn off many viewers, but does, given the dark premise, hold water.
Verdict: Too mean-spirited and patchily plotted for a mainstream audience, but Eisenberg and Ansari’s excellent comic riffing make it worth a look for those who like their slacker comedy dark.