Comedy fans are eagerly awaiting the release of this weekend’s ’30 Minutes or Less,’ starring Jesse Eisenberg as a hapless pizza-delivery boy who gets sucked into an elaborate and dangerous plot when he is kidnapped by two inept criminals and forced to rob a bank for them while wearing a bomb strapped to his chest. With the help of his best friend, he must somehow pull off the bank job, avoid the cops and get out with his life intact — as hilarious hijinks, inevitably, ensue.
But what many of those fans may not know is the true story behind the plot of ’30 Minutes or Less’; in 2003, 46-year-old pizza-delivery man Brian Wells died while being detained by the police, when the bomb wrapped around his neck detonated. Wells frantically pleaded that he had been forced to rob the bank against his will, but years later, prosecutors alleged that he had been involved with the plan all along. The controversy surrounding the case has remained an open wound for friends and family of Brian Wells, and for them, the new movie constitutes a heaping pile of salt.
This past weekend, friends of Wells spoke to TMZ calling the movie “trash,” which prompted Columbia Pictures to issue a statement reading: “Neither the filmmakers nor the stars of ’30 Minutes or Less’ were aware of this crime prior to their involvement in the film.” Moviefone spoke with the film’s director, Ruben Fleischer (‘Zombieland’), who played down the link between ’30 Minutes or Less’ and the true story of Brian Wells.
Moviefone: The family of Brian Wells has spoken out against the film, and some audience members think it’s poor taste to do a comedic version of the story. What would you say to those people who think the movie is bad form?
Ruben Fleischer: Well first of all, anyone who hasn’t seen the movie can’t judge. Because they haven’t seen the movie, and it doesn’t really relate to that story other than the fact that there’s a bomb strapped to somebody’s chest. They’re not really related in any way, so I think a lot of people are prejudging it without information.
What kind of interaction did you have with the people involved in the real Brian Wells case, when you were putting together this production?
Was there ever a moment on set where you felt something was either to dark or too inappropriate?
No, because it’s a comedy and it’s not that dark, there’s not much darkness. If you want to talk about what the movie is I’d be more than happy to, but there’s not really a connection to the movie and the case you’re referring to. The movie is a broad commercial comedy that’s really funny and that’s the movie we made. It never veers on dark.
What movies did you look to as a reference in trying to handle the tone and the humor of the movie?
For me the best reference was ‘Fargo.’ It’s another misguided crime plot where somebody comes up with a bad idea and then, as it goes down, it gets worse and worse and spirals out of control and has dire consequences. Ours is definitely a more positive, funny, uplifting version of that. Ours doesn’t have negative consequences; it only has positive ones. As far as handling a premise that’s dark, I think the Coen brothers are a great reference.
When I look at some of my favorite filmmakers, the Coen brothers have done everything from a western to a gangster movie to a very contemporary movie to a personal 50’s movie. I think there are a lot of filmmakers that can bring something different to each genre that they partake in; I’m thrilled at this opportunity to do something different and experiment with a different genre.
Watch the trailer for ’30 Minutes or Less’
As a director how difficult was it to reign in the personalities of Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari and Nick Swardson on a scene, but also give them enough room to have fun and create laughs?
I think the reason why you cast guys like that is so that they can go crazy and be funny. Most of their laughs are ones that they just improvised. At all times I was encouraging these comedians to take it further to build off of what’s on the page and really find the funniest version of the joke. It’s all based on the script; like any improvisation, it’s really directly character related. Sometimes you see a movie and you can tell what’s improvised, where you’re like “oh well that was just clearly funny on the set and they left it in.” Hopefully no one will be saying that about this movie.
I think every joke is really tied to the character and the conversations that they have are all embellishments on the script, as opposed to complete original different directions. As far as percentage wise I couldn’t say for sure, but a lot, pretty much most of Danny, Nick and Aziz’s stuff and Michael Peña’s biggest laughs are all stuff that they brought to the table.
What’s the latest word on ‘Zombieland 2’?
Hopefully that will happen sometime in the future but definitely not before ‘Gangster Squad’ [Fleishcer’s next film] gets done; we’re supposed to start shooting that in the fall.
How overwhelming was the experience of having Bill Murray in your first feature, playing a secret role?
As far as the secret of it all, I think anyone who saw the movie had such a joy when he came out, that I think they didn’t want to spoil it for anyone else. I was really bummed because a bunch of the reviews did; I thought that was really unclassy by the journalists who chose to reveal it, because so many people who saw the movie knew that it was such a highlight, they respected it enough not to share it. It was only a couple of reviewers who I think just wanted the scoop that spoiled it for other people.
We had only had three or four days to prepare for that scene so I didn’t have enough time to really psych myself out or get too nervous. I was in the middle of shooting at the time, so everything was so chaotic. When he showed up I remember seeing him for the first time walking up to that mansion, and I was like “Oh my gosh this is real.” He was only there for a day and a half. He got there at 11 o’clock in the morning, we shot that afternoon and then the next day we shot again with him and that was it. It was such a weird blip in the middle of an already overwhelming experience. I took it in stride but I was so excited, so nervous, so intimidated. He was just the coolest guy, couldn’t have been more helpful, more gracious, more complimentary. He got the joke, and was like if “I’m going to do this then let’s do it” and he just had fun with it. It was a dream come true.