Back in the 1980s, when cowboys didn’t commingle with aliens and Superman was still a U.S. citizen, the buddy action-comedy was born. The decidedly American subgenre featured two partners—usually polar-opposite cops—and seamlessly blended violence and banter. Lethal Weapon is the gold standard: macho knights of Reagan-era prosperity—Mel Gibson’s unhinged, suicidal cop and Danny Glover’s over-the-hill police officer—using lethal force to torpedo a heroin-smuggling operation.
Those brazen days are over.
Swap out the rugged cops for a pair of goofy leading men, and you have a new kind of action duo for the recession era. We had a taste of it last year in The Other Guys, which teamed up a forensic accountant (Will Ferrell) and a ballet-dancing cop (Mark Wahlberg). Gibson, meanwhile, is still playing suicidal, but as a balding, middle-aged zhlub whose latest partner was a talking puppet in The Beaver.
Opening Aug. 12, 30 Minutes or Less pushes the genre to new heights of absurdity. Fresh off his role as Facebook founder and über-nerd Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg stars as an aimless pizza-delivery guy abducted by two sociopaths (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson). They strap a bomb vest to his chest (he nearly cries), and force him to rob a bank. Enlisting the help of his best friend, a schoolteacher played by Aziz Ansari, they embark on a foolhardy mission that includes spray painting toy guns, stealing a Datsun, and outmaneuvering a feisty stripper. There’s also a slap fight that would make macho heavyweights cringe.
“We’re not Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson or Jason Statham,” says Ansari, giving himself and his equally casual and compact costar a once-over. “We’re…Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg.”
After playing an aspiring pickup artist in 2002’s Roger Dodger, Eisenberg, 27, became the go-to guy for dweeby characters (see The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland). Although his Oscar nomination for The Social Network helped his star rise 10-fold, there were a few drawbacks for the socially averse actor.
“If someone comes up to me on the street and tells me they like my movie and stays even 10 feet away from me, I’m scared for the rest of the day,” says Eisenberg. “It’s jarring to have people speak to you that you don’t know.”
Eisenberg’s onscreen co-conspirator, 28-year-old Aziz Ansari, was a stand-up comic before segueing into television with the MTV sketch-comedy series, Human Giant, and as the cocky goofball Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
His newfound celebrity provides him with an arsenal of stories. Just recently, he appeared in the tabloids for allegedly attending Scarlett Johansson’s “divorce party” after her breakup with Ryan Reynolds.
“It’s not like I got a reminder in the mail that said, “You have not yet RSVP’d for Scarlett’s divorce party, and there’s been 36 responses already!” Ansari says. “They made it like I was on the banquettes spraying champagne everywhere going, ‘Scarlett’s divorced! Hooray!’ We went out to a bar, ran into them, went to another bar, and the tabloids called it a ‘divorce party.’?” Eisenberg laughs, dutifully adding, “I’m sad I wasn’t invited to the divorce party.”
The pair is depending on their smart-funny-nerd cachet for the future. “You’re talking to two guys who don’t think about celebrity at all,” says Ansari. “But I’m sure by now you know that we go to strip clubs all the time and pop bottles.” He recently sold three film projects to comedy guru Judd Apatow, and, in what seems like a match made in neurotic heaven, Eisenberg will next star in Woody Allen’s The Bop Decameron. Fitting that in Allen’s first lead role (Take the Money and Run), he was also tasked with robbing a bank. In true nerd fashion, he came armed not with a gun but with a handwritten note.