Fast and foul-mouthed, the film is a diverting ride—despite some uncomfortable echoes
On the afternoon of August 28, 2003, a 46-year-old pizza delivery man named Brian Wells walked into a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and demanded $250,000. He showed tellers a device hanging from a collar around his neck and told them it was a bomb that would go off unless he received the money. He left with just under $9,000 and, when apprehended by police shortly thereafter, claimed to have been a hostage forced to rob the bank against his will. A bomb disposal unit was called, but before it arrived the device detonated, killing Wells. (Television cameras were more prompt, and captured footage of the gruesome event.) Though many details of the bizarre plot remain unclear, it appears that Wells may have been initially a willing accomplice, who believed the bomb to be used would be fake. (A good Wired story on the entire episode can be found here.)
The stars and director of 30 Minutes or Less say they were unaware of the Wells case; the screenwriters acknowledge they were “vaguely” familiar with it. And while it’s true that the film diverges substantially from the events in Erie—most obviously by steering far afield of the tragic conclusion—the similarities are numerous, and clearly not coincidental. And unlike, say, the Coen brothers’ Fargo, which also spun elements of a real crime to its own fictional ends, 30 Minutes or Less—a fast, foul-mouthed, and intermittently very funny comedy—borrows Wells’s unhappy tale for purely frivolous ends. I confess I’m of mixed minds regarding the degree to which this appropriation is, well, appropriate. But it seems worthy of mention.