Revenge of the Nerds

Article excerpt

Byline: Marlow Stern

Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari are the new tough guys.

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 uber-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). …