Family of Real-Life 'Pizza Bomber' Not Laughing at 30 Minutes or Less

30min-feat.jpgIn Ruben Fleischer's upcoming comedy 30 Minutes or Less, Jesse Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery man coerced into robbing a bank by two thugs (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) who strap a bomb to his chest and threaten to detonate him. Comedy ensues, of course, but the real-life 2003 event that loosely inspired the film didn't end so hilariously, as the family of late Pennsylvania pizza man Brian Wells would like to point out.

Wells's story has unsettling parallels in the film, in which McBride plots to have his father killed for his inheritance and forces Eisenberg's pizza boy to rob a bank in order to fund the operation: According to reports, on August 28, 2003, Erie, PA resident Wells, who worked delivering pizzas for Mama Mia Pizzeria, met with accomplices in a pre-meditated plot to rob an area bank using a fake bomb collar as a prop so he could feign innocence if caught; unbeknownst to Wells, his colleagues planned to strap an actual bomb to him, forcing him to chase a series of clues in hopes of defusing it in time. (Wells's family maintains that he was an innocent victim in the plot.)

Wells entered Erie's PNC Bank and demanded $250,000, only getting $8,000. He then began frantically chasing down the clues that would release him from his bomb, left under rocks by his accomplices around town. When the police caught up to him, Wells pleaded for help removing the device. Less than an hour after he'd been strapped to the bomb it detonated, killing Wells.

Understandably, Wells's surviving family members have voiced their objections to Fleischer's new film mining laughs from their tragedy. In an email to the AP, Wells's sister Jean Heid admonished the filmmakers: "It's hard for me to grasp how other human beings can take delight and pride in making such a movie and consider it a comedy. I don't think it's funny to laugh at the innocent who are victimized by criminals, who care nothing for human life."

Sony rep Steve Elzer responded, claiming filmmaker ignorance. "Neither the filmmakers nor the stars of 30 Minutes or Less were aware of this crime prior to their involvement in the film," he said. "The writers were vaguely familiar with what had occurred and wrote an original screenplay that does not mirror the real-life tragedy."

It's hard to completely buy the Sony defense, especially in light of the many parallels between the plot of 30 Minutes or Less's (details clearly conveyed in the film's marketing campaign):

Real Life Case: Set in Erie, PA

30 Min. or Less: Set in Grand Rapids, MI

Real Life Case: Crime masterminded by Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, who sought to bankroll a $125,000 hit on her father to inherit his fortune, working with collaborators Kenneth Barnes, William Rothstein, and Floyd Stockton.

30 Min. or Less: Crime masterminded by Dwayne (McBride), who seeks to bankroll a $100,000 hit on his father to inherit his fortune, working with collaborator Travis (Swardson).

Real Life Case: Wells gets a call to deliver pizzas to an empty lot, where his collaborators meet him and outfit him with a bomb collar against his will. He has 55 minutes to rob a bank.

30 Min. or Less: Nick (Eisenberg) gets a call to deliver pizzas to an abandoned stockyard, where his assailants meet him and outfit him with a bomb vest against his will. He has less than nine hours to rob a bank.

Real Life Case: Wells robs the PNC Bank using a modified shotgun, then looks for the clues to removing the bomb collar.

30 Min. or Less: Nick and his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) rob a bank using fake guns, then look for clues to removing the bomb vest.

You decide: Does the plot of 30 Minutes or Less "mirror the tragedy" of Brian Wells's tale, or not? Better question -- is it possible the filmmakers and stars were so unaware of the real-life tragedy while making the film (or "vaguely familiar," in the case of writers Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan)... and how much do the answers to those questions matter to most moviegoers?

[AP via CinemaBlend, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, CNN]


  • Silverice92 says:

    Why do you think the death of a criminal is consider as tragic? I believe there is similarity but the cores of this movie is about how Jesse/Aziz and Nick/Danny buddy friendship. It is an age old story of money vs. friendship... How far are you willing to go for your best friend? You can get that vibe just from the trailer. Does that sound like Brian Wells case?

  • Chasmosaur says:

    Actually I'm trying to figure out why you would diffuse a bomb. (Sorry, being a grammar nazi, but that really jumped out at me...)

  • Anonymous says:

    This is what Hollywood does. It capatalizes on tragedy. It capitalized on Columbine, 9/11, and just waited for the Iraq war to happen and become a disaster. To them, it's still the 1970s and the Vietnam war is back. They can claim being anti-violence all they want and being against corporations. Ofcourse they hate corporations, corporations actually do USEFUL things.
    America doesn't have the highest murder rate by the way.

    • jessie c says:

      What? What movies did they do on columbine? I know here was that documentary farenheight 911,and I seem to remember a movie about the flight that rebelled which I found pretty distasteful, but what movies are you referring to for columbine? Bowling for columbine does not count because it was also a documentary.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Argh. Of course.

  • Jesse S. says:

    First of all, claiming that Wells was in on it is not only a terrible accusation to make, but a completely unjustifiable one, and a slap in the face to his family and friends. Before you go making assumptions, please do a little research first. After reading an article on, printed in Feb. of 2011 (almost 6 months before your article was posted) I learned that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes were convicted of planning the failed bomb plot. Robert Pinetti, a third accomplice involved in Brian Wells death was found dead due to a drug and alcohol overdose 3 days after Wells was murdered.
    I am not trying to put anyone down, or cause some sort of comment war. However I too have been accused of being involved in things that I had nothing to do with. The difference is that I am alive and able to defend myself. You are misinforming people and casting Mr. wells in a negative light as well as being lazy. In the time it probably took you to write this article, I was able to read the story on the Fox News website (Aug. 2005), NY Daily News (Feb 2011), this website, and find pictures of the REAL convicted criminals behind this twisted scheme gone awry. Please, if you're going to write about real events, look into them more so you can avoid mixing opinion and fiction into your facts.

  • Jesse S. says:

    OK, before you go on about my grammar, spelling, or lack of proofreading... 4th sentence, 2nd paragraph, I meant to type CASTING Mr. wells, not CASING... I thought I would be able to edit after posting... It's been a long day.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Added another citation via CNN (Aug. 2011) referencing the FBI conclusion of Wells's involvement and a notation of his family's belief in his innocence.

  • Silverice92 says:

    Have you read the whole article for this case? They did a pretty thorough investigation.

  • Scott c says:

    I live in Erie Pa and all I know is that I'm pissed cause this movie looks good some of my favorite actors but this movie will not be played anywhere in Erie because they say it's due to "local controversy." which is just as dumb as this article.

  • ZebedeeDooDah says:

    Haha, what? Yeah, Sony sure hates corporations, and don't get me started on the Iraqsploitation genre, all those mega successful cash-ins like... little help?

  • j'accuse! says:

    Haha! Gotta love people who just chime in to tell you how dumb your article is. Le sigh.

  • Scott c says:

    I wrote a comment not an article. Le sigh

  • LickyDisco says:

    They didn't say you wrote the article. J' is speaking directly to Jen in regards of people chiming in to tell her how dumb her article is...which you did. A suggestion, though, if I may? Before you hit reply to a comment where you use the word 'dumb' in regards to someone else's writing? Pay attention to how you yourself write. Now le shut up.

  • The movie was funny.... in Pittsburgh, I do remember this event... This movie storyline was stollen from actual events.