This weekend, moviegoers will watch as Jesse Eisenberg’s character finds himself in the hilarious predicament of having a bomb strapped to his chest and being forced to rob a bank in the comedy “30 Minutes or Less.”
But this won’t be the first time some people have watched this scenario play out on a screen. The movie’s opening weekend represents a grim reminder for the people of Erie, Pennsylvania where a similarly bizarre event occurred on August 28, 2003.
That day Brian Wells, a pizza deliveryman for Mama Mia’s Pizzeria, was killed when a collar bomb locked around his neck exploded while he sat in a parking lot, surrounded by police. Wells had just robbed a bank and was making claims that he had been forced to wear the bomb by people inside a house where he had delivered a pizza.
The plot that unfolded in court after his death is one that is convoluted to this day. Wells’ family maintains that he was an innocent deliveryman who became a victim when he was involuntarily sucked into the plan. The FBI says evidence proves that Wells was involved in the pre-planning meetings for the crime, but tried to back out when he realized the bomb was real. He couldn’t, and it cost him his life. People in Erie don’t feel much closure on the event, despite several people being sentenced for their involvement in the plan.
“It’s a tragedy and no one should make a joke of it,” said Tony Ditomo who was Brian Wells’ boss at Mama Mia’s. “I don’t want to see [the film.] I will never see it. It’s not for me.”
Hollywood is hoping for a different reaction. In an interview with Moviephone, “30 Minutes or Less” director Ruben Fleischer defended his film, saying the only similarity between the movie and the real-life event is that there’s a bomb strapped to somebody’s chest.
"It's a comedy and it's not that dark. There's not much darkness," Fleischer said.
There was plenty of darkness on the day it actually happened in Erie, says Jerry Clark, an FBI agent who witnessed and investigated the case and is currently writing a book about it. Although Clark says he may someday consult on a movie that portrays Erie’s “pizza bomber” incident in a more serious light, he doesn’t agree with Hollywood’s comedic interpretation. He decided he wasn’t interested in seeing “30 Minutes or Less” after watching the trailer.
“I have nothing against Hollywood and their artistic license. That’s their right to do,” said Clark. ”But to view what I saw that day and somehow associate it with a comedy, I found that to be difficult.”
For the many people there who feel a real connection to the tragedy surrounding the pizza bomber case, “30 Minutes or Less” is not a welcome visitor in Erie. Despite the outcry, it will show tonight at Erie’s biggest movie theater at 12:01 am. But even boycotting a film that “doesn’t relate to that story,” in the director’s words, won't do much to forget the emotions that do relate to that story for the people of Erie, PA.
Cassandra Garrison was a reporter, anchor and producer at JET 24 Action News in Erie from 2007 to July of 2011... a period of time when the pizza bomber case was routinely covered, including the conviction and sentencing of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong as the mastermind behind the plot.