In 30 Minutes or Less, two amateur criminals lock a bomb onto a pizza delivery man that will explode in ten hours unless he and his friend can rob a bank and give the bomb makers the money. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as Nick the pizza guy and Aziz Ansari as his teacher friend, Chet, 30 Minutes or Less is a comedy, despite the fact that its premise seems to have been directly lifted from a real-life incident that occurred in Erie, Pennsylvania in 2003, where a pizza delivery guy named Brian Wells was forced to rob a bank with a bomb locked around his neck, which eventually exploded and killed him.
The film's director, Ruben Fleischer, has said that 30 Minutes or Less is not really related in any way to the Wells incident, which is hard to believe since even the motive of the fictional bomb makers (played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, often in ape masks) is almost identical to the real-life bombers'.
Opinions will differ on whether it's inappropriate or insensitive to base a comedy on an incident where someone actually died, though I personally don't have a problem with it, especially since the original incident isn't mocked or even mentioned in the film. Plus, there's nothing unusual about movies or TV shows basing plots on stories pulled from the news, and in the end, 30 Minutes or Less is merely a light, fun, ultimately forgettable film aimed at a young audience who will most likely enjoy the film's rapid-fire, largely improvised, frantic humor, and probably won't know or remember the real-life incident it's based on.
Watch the trailer for 30 Minutes or Less below.
But what really stood out for me in 30 Minutes or Less is actor/comedian Aziz Ansari, and not just because his comedic skill and unique delivery often make him the funniest, most interesting person in any scene he's in. It has more to do with the fact that Ansari, who was born in South Carolina, is of Indian descent. And what's exciting about that, at least for me, is that as far as the story goes, Chet's ethnicity doesn't matter at all.
For many people, more diversity on the big and small screens means more stories with, for, and about minorities, their identities and their issues. But for me, whether it's a reflection of resignation or my personal background, it's not what I'm looking for. The thing about Ansari's character, Chet, is that being Indian is not even a minor part of Chet's character. In fact, the role of Chet could've been played by an actor of any race -- and that's what I find exciting.
As a kid, I didn't hunger for shows and movies about "the Asian American Experience" or characters struggling with Asian-ness, identity and racism. I simply wanted to see a reflection of what I knew to be true -- that there are Asian people born in America who sound and act pretty much like every other person born in America. But all I saw on the screens were Asian caricatures -- Japanese businessmen and tourists, exchange students, and thick-accented laundry/restaurant/dry-cleaning workers -- and it bothered me that many people might think that these stereotypes represented the only Asians in America.
Ansari didn't get the role because Chet is an Indian character, but because Ansari was the best, funniest actor for a race-neutral role in the kind of broad comedy I grew up on. For me, diversity is less about niche-programming aimed at a particular minority, but having minorities in mainstream projects aimed at everyone. That way, Americans can learn that minorities don't just exist as fetishes, caricatures or punchlines, but as people who could be your friend -- the kind of friend who could help you out of a very difficult jam.