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Pizza Bomber Mythology and True Crime Film
To paraphrase the great Michael Keaton, “You want to get nuts, Crime Heads? Let’s get nuts.”
By which I mean, of course, let’s talk true crime.
Now you may be thinking, “How is non-fiction nuttier than the made-up stuff?” And if you are thinking that, I hope your head wound heals up well. For the rest of us who have accepted the old cliché that truth is stranger than fiction as gospel, you know where I’m coming from.
You know that a story of a pizza delivery man who chains a bomb to himself so that he can pose as a hostage and rob a bank, only to be blown up by his own bomb, is not beyond the realm of possibility. You know, in fact, that such a story isn’t even unusual – at least, not in the definitive sense. A story like the Pizza Bomber, Brian Douglas Wells, is just a daily entry in the Drudge Report.
You also know that Hollywood just can’t hang with a story as weird as real life. It needs to be cut into a neat three-act form, canned in shiny melodrama, and served with a moral on top.
So when news like today’s dispatch about Mythology Entertainment and Anyway Entertainment securing the rights to the Pizza Bomber’s true crime book, Pizza Bomber: The Untold Story of America’s Most Shocking Bank Robbery, floats across your screen, you don’t get too excited.
You understand, as I do, that whoever is cast as Brian Wells, the ill-fated self-suiciding pizza delivery robber, will not be as homely and world-weary as the genuine article. You expect that his accomplice, the casually murderous deadbeat mastermind, Marjorie Diehl Armstrong, won’t be shown as a penny-ante hag. And whatever plot is machined into the story of Pizza Bomber won’t be nearly as dumb as a pair – actually, a trio, but expect that to be edited too – coming up with a hare-brained scheme that ends in accidental suicide.
Haven’t heard the straight dirt on the “Collarbomb,” as the FBI knew Brian Wells’ case? Here it is: Pizza delivery guy walks into an Erie, PA, bank and says he needs moolah or he’ll get blown up. Trick is he thought the bomb was fake. Except the trick was on him and the bomb was real. So when the plan imploded and the cops showed up, the small-time scumbags who had strapped the device to him exploded it.
Such is the story of Brian Wells, 30 years a Mama Mia pizza man, tricked into blowing himself up for $250,000 he never saw by Marjorie Armstrong, a hang-dog broad who played den mother to prostitutes and junkies.
And such is life. It’ll never see the screen in its pure, pathetic form. It’ll have Michael Shannon as the pizza dude and Juliette Moore as Marjorie Armstrong, and it will be rife with twists and intrigue.
Sure, it should draw money – both from the box office and from investors. Mythology is no longer small potatoes, what with their brand on an upcoming Channing Tatum picture with Roland Emmerich at the helm, White House Down. They’ll pack some star power into the pizza debacle.
But Pizza Bomber is by no means “the most shocking bank robbery.” True crime aficionados could argue that case for the North Hollywood Shootout, the full-auto gunfight between scores of LAPD and two doped-up, up-armored muscle-heads toting over 1,000 rounds of ammo. Heck, we all remember Dog Day Afternoon was based on a true story too, right?
Life is always weirder than whatever makes it to the screen. Real crime fans embrace this. They know that David Lynch gets nearer to the actual pith of the human condition than Dashiell Hammett. Even “noir” fiction and film wears kid gloves. They just happened to be stained darker than the customary vanilla fare that populates our modern feel-good fables about cops and robbers.
Despite all this, I’m psyched for Pizza Bomber. Mythology Entertainment and Anyway Entertainment should find enough lucre to price this one out of the made-for-Lifetime-Channel level. I expect a healthy art-house distribution at least, with the quality of talent that goes with that.
It’ll make the genre a healthier place. We need it, given that the Coens and Lynch have hit the brakes lately. We’ve had to settle for the over-drawn oddity of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe and the airless philosophy of Cosmopolis. Even if the unfortunate mister Collarbomb is shown without too many warts and irrelevancies, at least he’s being shown.
At least, with the all-too-common outlandishness of Pizza Bomber, we get a glimpse at what true crime is really like.