BREVITY, THEY say, is the soul of wit. I'd argue that it's also the soul of dirty jokes, only more so.
Certainly brevity is the organizing principle of the fast, foul and frequently funny, "30 Minutes or Less," which plops Oscar-nominated nerd Jesse Eisenberg into a posse of R-rated comedy pros - Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Aziz Ansari.
It's nice to see Eisenberg engage in a little DWI, though when it comes to using 12-letter obscenities that start with "mother," he's no Samuel L. Jackson.
And that's part of the joke. Eisenberg is Nick, a spindly pizza delivery guy forced to become a desperado when two lunkhead crooks (McBride, Swardson) strap a bomb to him and instruct him to rob a bank on their behalf.
Nick is too terrified to complete the task alone, and so recruits BF Chet (Ansari, very good in an expanded role) to assist him - riding shotgun, stocking up on supplies, plotting strategy based on what they know about banks and bombs from Kathryn Bigelow movies.
The premise works, for a couple of reasons. Eisenberg and Azari have great chemistry. And there's a wrinkle - terror slowly gives way to excitement, and the two find they enjoy the bandit life.
They have a buddy movie analogue in McBride and Swardson, whose own goofball friendship (it's like "Of Mice and Men," with two Lennys) is tested by the ordeal of following the bomb-strapped Nick.
There are complications involving a Detroit hit man (Michael Pena), Fred Ward has a minor role, but the most valuable supporting player here is the movie's sense of time and timing.
"Minutes" is the work of Ruben Fleischer, who also gave us the short, sweet "Zombieland," another movie that came in under 90 minutes.
This seems more like style than coincidence. Fleischer is one of the few contemporary directors of comedy who seems to understand that pacing is crucial to the genre, especially the action-comedy that is his specialty (Nick's other buddy is his Mustang, and a 280Z makes a nice cameo).
I know we've been over this, but here it is again - modern comedies are tested and edited for laughs, not just (or even primarily) story or flow. Jokes that work stay in the movie, even jokes that work for a slim majority, or plurality, or don't really help the narrative.
You end up with movies that are funny but long, sloppy, randomly arranged and prone to overstaying their welcome. Which is why Fleischer's movies are such a refreshing jolt, or at least they are to me.