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