Michael Chiklis, Ray Sharkey, J.T. Walsh | Directed by Larry Peerce|
From the day it was announced that a movie would be made of Bob Woodward's book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, people got riled up. Woodward, the Washington Post's whiz, wrote not only of the late comic actor's drug problems but of rampant drug abuse in Hollywood. Dan Aykroyd, Belushi's chum, Saturday Night Live partner and frequent movie costar, was outraged at seeing his friend's life further exploited. ''I have witches working now to jinx the thing,'' Aykroyd told the press.
Aykroyd must employ good witches. Every major studio passed on the film. No sooner had the Wired producers talked with the smaller New Visions Pictures about picking up distribution than negotiations were off. Wired coproducer Charles Meeker claimed New Visions was bowing to pressure from Michael Ovitz, president of the Creative Artists Agency. Ovitz, whose agency represented Belushi at the time of his death and continues to represent Aykroyd, James Belushi (John's brother) and Bill Murray, denied making threats. He claimed the film would ''rise or fall based on its own merits.'' Still, New Visions pulled out. Then Atlantic Entertainment Group agreed to take over but ran into financial difficulties. Now Taurus Entertainment has picked up the ball.
As it turns out, the movie they couldn't stop should have been, but for a different reason: It's a howling dog. Whether by design or by forced compromise, Wired is even more of a gloss than the candy-assed view of Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire, Far from pointing any fingers, Wired the movie hardly names names. Ovitz, Murray, Belushi's manager Bernie Brillstein and Animal House director John Landis threatened lawsuits if they were depicted. Except for Cathy Smith, the woman who was with Belushi before his death, it appears that nearly everyone Belushi encountered in big, bad Hollywood tried to warn him off demon drugs. Wired packs all the investigative wallop of a Care Bears flick.
Stage actor Michael Chiklis, chosen over 200 other candidates for the Belushi role, gained thirty pounds and manages a passing physical resemblance. But he captures none of Belushi's charm, warmth or genius. It's excruciating to watch Chiklis drain the wit from such classic Belushi routines as the Samurai, the Bees and the Blues Brothers. Gary Groomes, another theater recruit, reduces Aykroyd to the level of nightclub impersonation. Lucinda Jenney as Belushi's widow, Judy Jacklin, and Patti D'Arbanville as Smith manage a few affecting moments. A remarkable feat under the circumstances.
Earl Mac Rauch has derived a surreal, stupefyingly silly script from Woodward's incisive book. And director Larry Peerce (The Bell Jar, Ash Wednesday and Hard to Hold) once again reveals an overweening ineptitude. The film starts with Belushi's death from a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont, in 1982, and moves to the hospital, where the dead man busts out of his body bag and joins his guardian angel, a Puerto Rican cabdriver offensively overacted by Ray Sharkey, on a ride through his life. Take my word, excepting It's a Wonderful Life, movies with guardian angels usually spell calamity. Woodward, stolidly portrayed by J.T. Walsh, also gets to play a spirit of sorts. He materializes, like something beamed down from Star Trek, at key moments to debate with his subject. ''Woodward, breathe life into me,'' Belushi gasps as he lies choking on his deathbed. ''You did it to yourself, John,'' Woodward replies. Maybe. But Woodward, who served as technical advisor on the film, is partly responsible for cheapening the life of a gifted performer. He'd better pray Belushi's spirit doesn't make contact with Aykroyd's witches.