Remember the harrowing, horrifying real-life tale of Brian Wells, the pizza delivery guy forced to wear a live time bomb locked to his chest by a metal collar while robbing a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania? Well Columbia Pictures went and (sort of) made a comedy about it.
We know — who does that? It’s anyone’s guess how director Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less—a film about, yep, a pizza delivery guy (played by The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg) forced to rob a bank with a time bomb strapped to his chest—ultimately finishes. (And if we knew, we wouldn’t spoil you.) But for Brian Wells, things ended very badly. You may recall that shortly after police apprehended Wells on August 28, 2003, the bomb—attached to his chest and secured by a triple-band locked metal collar—suddenly detonated, punching a five-inch hole in his chest and killing him.
Art exploiting life? Or just imitating it? Now imagine you’re one of Wells’ family members, say his sister, who reproached the filmmaker in an email to the Associated Press: ”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.”
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Sony’s claiming no foul, with rep Steve Elzer stating “Neither the filmmakers nor the stars of 30 Minutes or Less were aware of this crime prior to their involvement in the film,” and that “The writers were vaguely familiar with what had occurred and wrote an original screenplay that does not mirror the real-life tragedy.”
And according to the AP, the movie’s handlers are saying the film is in fact not based on the notorious Pennsylvania pizza delivery collar-bomb case or the specific circumstances of Wells’ death. For instance, Wells had less than two hours to pull off a series of heists but only completed one, and wound up surrounded by police, unable to remove the bomb attached to his chest and waiting for someone to come to his aid—it exploded less than 30 minutes later. The protagonist in 30 Minutes or Less has something like nine hours to rob a bank, and—we’re just guessing here, since it’s a comedy—probably doesn’t end up buying the farm.
Still, you’d think the writers might’ve tried to be less obvious about it (you know, like giving Eisenberg’s character a completely different job and perilous task). If you remember the Wells story, and maybe Sony’s simply hoping you don’t (or don’t well enough to be offended), it’s impossible not to see the unsettling parallels here.