I’m by no means a fan of reality television. That being said, I have stuck with some of the traditional shows that gave birth (in a Rosemary’s Baby kind of way) to the current reality programming genre. Those shows are COPS and America’s Most Wanted. I even remember when both shows premiered on Fox, a newbie network at the time…and I probably just dated myself with that comment given they’ve been on for over twenty years respectively.
It was because of my loyalty to America’s Most Wanted that had me shiver a little when I saw the trailer for the upcoming Jesse Eisenberg film, 30 Minutes or Less. Here’s the premise care of IMDB:
Two fledgling criminals kidnap a pizza delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, and inform him that he has mere hours to rob a bank or else…
Sounds pretty funny, right? Pizza delivery guy gets a bomb strapped to him and he’s forced to rob a bank. I’d be laughing had this not unfolded in real life with far less comedic repercussions.
On August 28, 2003 Brian Wells arrived for work at 11:00 am. His occupation: pizza delivery driver. At 1:30 pm Brian was asked to deliver two cheese and pepperoni pizzas to a remote location near the woods. About an hour after that Brian entered a bank with a bomb strapped to him (around his neck in this case) and handed the teller a note demanding money.
It’s an eerie tale to be sure and when I first saw the segment on America’s Most Wanted I thought, who’s going to be the first to make a movie about that. At the time I imagined some type of Michael Mann crime drama in the same vein as Collateral. Apparently I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Instead, this real life, horrifying event has been wrapped in what I’m sure critics will call a “laugh-out-loud” buddy comedy. I have no way to confirm if writers Matthew Sullivan and Michael Diliberti knew anything about what has been dubbed “the collar bomb” case, but according to Wikipedia (take it with a grain of salt) that was the basis for 30 Minutes or Less.
This is by no means the first time Hollywood has based films on tragic events. Examples include (but certainly not limited to) Vietnam, 9/11 and similarly the passenger uprising on Flight 93. All these have been given the motion picture treatment but typically they’ve been treated with some level of dignity and respect.
What makes these films different? Is there a rule in Hollywood that says if dozens, hundreds or thousands of people die thou shall not make fun of said circumstance? If only one person dies though, oh heck, lampoon that all you want.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some mission to start a boycott of 30 Minutes or Less (in fact, just by writing this I’m promoting the film). I simply felt someone should take a moment of pause on this and reflect. There’s such an enormous reality distortion going on in this movie, and I can’t think of another film that warped the boundaries of the real to such an extreme.
There could be any number of similar instances of exploiting tragedy for profit but this just happened to be the one that grabbed my attention. The purpose here is to invite conversation about Hollywood’s civility towards certain subject matter. It’s one thing for Law and Order to base an episode on a crime “ripped from the headlines” but 30 Minutes or Less appears to be nothing short of exploitation.
Has Hollywood crossed a line?
It would be interesting to get Brian Wells opinion on this topic. Sadly, the collar bomb around his neck took his life before the police could rescue him. Don’t worry though; I’m pretty sure Oscar-nominated Jesse Eisenberg will be just fine.
On a side note, IMDb doesn’t help at all when they post items such as this on their site as Trivia:
The plot is loosely based on the real life incident where a pizza delivery man named Brian Wells was kidnapped, had a makeshift bomb strapped to his chest, and was forced to rob a bank.
Can anyone tell me what part of this story they left out?
30 Minutes or Less opens August 12.