In the screenwriting world, it’s commonly understood that most weak scripts falter in the second act, because it’s easy to intrigue with a lively setup and to fabricate satisfactory endings by resolving things, whereas maintaining logic and momentum in between these milestones is the tricky part. Therefore it’s peculiar to encounter a movie along the lines of Thirty Dangerous Seconds, which starts poorly, hits its stride midway through, and stumbles again toward the end—a solid second act without benefit of good first and third acts is a rare thing. Anyway, Thirty Dangerous Seconds is a low-budget crime thriller shot in Oklahoma, with clumsy regional actors supporting imported Hollywood leads.
Briefly, here’s the laborious setup. A down-on-his-luck geologist (Robert Lansing) robs an armored car, but at the very same moment, a trio of professional criminals attempts the very same crime. When the geologist gets the loot instead of the professionals, the professionals kidnap the geologist’s wife, then threaten her life unless the geologist surrenders the stolen money. Much of the picture depicts intrigue related to meet-ups between the geologist and either the crooks or random folks enlisted by the crooks to function as surrogates. Colorful characters include an actor playing a monk, a fellow dressed as a clown, and a little person on roller skates. In its best moments—very often just fleeting instants within otherwise problematic scenes—Thirty Dangerous Seconds is a sorta-clever, sorta-whimsical riff on crime-flick tropes. Lansing imbues early scenes with self-loathing before shifting to a kind of petty crankiness, yet this entertaining posturing ceases to make sense whenever the viewer remembers that the character’s beloved wife is in mortal danger.
And that’s the problem with Thirty Dangerous Seconds overall: The elements don’t harmonize. In a better film of this type, such as a good Elmore Leonard adaptation, attitude and logic mesh organically. In Thirty Dangerous Seconds, the lighthearted stuff clashes with the nasty stuff, the criminal scheming defies recognizable human-behavior patterns, and so on. In short, Thirty Dangerous Seconds is an amateur-hour endeavor—but it also happens to feature a few decent throwaway jokes, like the shot of actors dressed as monks while reading Playboy. And, lest this point get overlooked, recall that bit with the little person on roller skates. In the absence of real cinematic quality, flashes of lively eccentricity count for something.
Thirty Dangerous Seconds: FUNKY