Wired (film): Wikis

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Wired
Directed by Larry Peerce
Produced by Charles R. Meeker
Edward S. Feldman
Written by Bob Woodward (book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi)
Earl Mac Rauch (screenplay)
Starring Michael Chiklis
Ray Sharkey
J.T. Walsh
Patti D'Arbanville
Lucinda Jenney
Alex Rocco
Gary Groomes
Jere Burns
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Tony Imi
Editing by Eric A. Sears
Distributed by Taurus Entertainment Company
Release date(s) August 25, 1989 (USA)
Running time 112 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget Unknown
Gross revenue $1,089,000 (USA)

Wired is a 1989 film biography of John Belushi directed by Larry Peerce, adapted from the book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi (written by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward and published in 1984). It starred Michael Chiklis (The Commish, The Shield, Fantastic Four) (in his film debut) as Belushi. Wired was both a critical and a commercial failure. As of this writing, the film has never been released on DVD, and the videocassette (released by International Video Entertainment, now known as Lions Gate Home Entertainment and later re-released by Avid Home Entertainment) is out of print. The film's tagline was "For John Belushi Every Night Was Saturday Night."

Contents

Plot

The story follows John Belushi shortly after dying from a drug overdose in early 1982, as he literally awakens in a morgue and is about to undergo an autopsy. Panicked, Belushi escapes and finds himself in the company of the enigmatic Angel Velasquez (Ray Sharkey), a Puerto Rican cabbie who takes Belushi to significant moments in his life from the beginning of his career to the courtship of his wife, Judith (Lucinda Jenney), into his burgeoning comedy career, his friendship with Dan Aykroyd (Gary Groomes) and his eventual decline. The film alternates between Belushi as a ghost and his journey with Velasquez to flashbacks (in non-linear style) as his career starts to heat up. Meanwhile, journalist Bob Woodward (J.T. Walsh) is researching Belushi's life as he prepares to write a book about the late comic actor. Woodward's investigation leads him to Cathy Smith (Patti D'Arbanville), who procured drugs for Belushi, and the story climaxes with Woodward directly conversing with Belushi during the actor's dying moments.

Background

Michael Chiklis won the role of John Belushi after being chosen over 200 other actors, and put on 30 pounds for the part.[1] Many thought that Chiklis would never ascend to stardom for being the lead in such a negatively-received film.

Although Bob Woodward's Wired was a bestseller, it was criticized by many close to Belushi for its sensationalism, and the film adaptation did little to separate itself from the book's reputation (promotional material described Wired as "the film Hollywood didn't want made"). Like the book, the film was boycotted by several of Belushi's friends and family, including Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, and Belushi's widow, Judith Belushi Pisano (two years after the release of the film, Pisano wrote her book (Samurai Widow, 1991) to counter the image of her late husband portrayed in the original book and this adaptation).

However, in many ways, Wired diverged from the book it was based upon. The movie was criticized due to the addition of several fictional elements that were not present in the book, such as the guardian angel character, and the addition of Woodward himself as a character (played by J.T. Walsh). Other difficulties for the filmmakers during production included their inability to obtain the rights to the original Saturday Night Live skits that had made Belushi a star, and so they were forced to write imitations, e.g. "Samurai Baseball" (also, The Blues Brothers never performed "634-5789" in concert as they do in this movie; however, Eddie Floyd performed the song in the 1998 movie Blues Brothers 2000). The screenwriters did, however, manage to work allusions and in-jokes to Belushi's film and TV routines into scenes and dialogue in the film.

The characters of Wired are a mixture of real-life people and obvious facsimiles. Judith Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bob Woodward and Cathy Smith, in addition to Belushi himself, appear by name in the film, but other real-life associates of Belushi's were assigned fictional names. For example, Belushi's manager Bernie Brillstein is represented in the movie by Alex Rocco's character "Arnie Fromson," and Belushi's minder Smokey Wendell is represented by Blake Clark's character "Dusty Jenkins." Many real-life celebrities who figured specifically in Belushi's life and featured prominently in Woodward's book (including Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Ed Begley, Jr., Treat Williams and Carrie Fisher) are not depicted in the film at all. John Landis, who directed Belushi in the movies National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), flat-out refused to have his name incorporated into the film and threatened to sue, causing the producers to label a generic name on the film director who appears in the film. As played by Jon Snyder, the film director is an obvious lookalike of Landis during the Blues Brothers sequence, and in the scene where he is walking across the movie set, a helicopter can be heard in the background (a reference to the helicopter accident that occurred when Landis filmed Twilight Zone: The Movie). The film also depicts the director punching a coked-out Belushi in the face during the filming of The Blues Brothers. This event, recounted directly from the opening of Woodward's book, was dismissed by Landis as "not true"[2]). Bill Murray, who starred alongside Belushi in Saturday Night Live, also allegedly threatened a lawsuit against the film's producers if they depicted him in the movie. An obvious portrait is made of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, played by actor Joe Urla, although the role is listed as Stage Manager.

One scene in Wired features Joe Strummer's song "Love Kills", from the soundtrack to Sid and Nancy (1986) - another biopic about a celebrity drug casualty, Sid Vicious (interestingly, both Sid and Nancy and Wired tell their respective stories largely in flashback form, and both movies use the image of a taxi cab as a metaphor for the afterlife). In another scene in Wired, Billy Preston appears as himself, playing a piano accompaniment to Chiklis as Belushi singing the song "You Are So Beautiful" (co-written by Preston) in the style of Joe Cocker.

The producers of Wired had problems finding a distributor for the film, as many of the major studios refused to distribute the film. Several independent studios such as New Visions backed away from it. Atlantic Entertainment was about to distribute it, but financial problems prevented that from happening, so Taurus Entertainment agreed to distribute the film.[3]

Critical reaction

The critical response to Wired was almost uniformly hostile.

Leonard Maltin condemned the movie as "the film fiasco of its year... mind-numbingly wrongheaded." Maltin noted that Michael Chiklis "looks a little like Belushi but conveys none of his comic genius in some clumsy Saturday Night Live recreations" and that J.T. Walsh, "as Woodward, is an unintentional howl with the decade's most constipated performance."

Writing for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley dismissed the movie as "the silliest celebrity bio since Mommie Dearest" and "a biography without an ounce of soul or a shred of dignity. Billed as a fantasy-comedy-drama, it manages to be none of these. The drama is laughable, the comedy lame, the fantasy without wings." Kempley described the film's direction as "ludicrous," the script as "preposterous," and also criticised Michael Chiklis' portrayal of Belushi: "Sam Kinison might have played the part -- like Belushi, he's obscene, overweight, abusive and mad as hell. Chiklis, who does look and sound like Belushi, is rather cherubic in his movie debut. There's a Bambi-ish quality to his portrait of debauchery, a strangely cute requiem for a funny man."[4]

Also writing for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wondered if this movie is "what the real Belushi's family, friends and fans really need. Certainly Belushi deserves as much scrutiny as the next public figure who died after heavy drug use, but this autopsy seems unnecessary." Howe had no praise for Michael Chiklis' performance as Belushi: "Despite a histrionic outpouring of growls, snorts, yells and re-creations of familiar Belushi shticks, from Jake Elmore to Joe Cocker, Chiklis seems to miss every opportunity to redeem himself. He's loud where he should have been soft, flat where he should have been funny and dead where he should have been alive."[5]

Vincent Canby for the New York Times described the movie as "a bit fuzzy and off-center."[6]

Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that the movie "is in some ways a sincere attempt to deal with the material, but it is such an ungainly and hapless movie, so stupidly written, so awkwardly directed and acted, that it never gets off the ground." He also criticized the movie's lack of authenticity: "There should be, at some point in a movie like this, a moment when we have the illusion that we are seeing the real John Belushi...That moment never comes. I always was aware that an actor (Michael Chiklis) was before me on the screen, and that Wired was an ungainly fictional construction. The saddest moments were the ones in which Chiklis attempted to re-create some of Belushi's famous characters and routines. He never gives us a living Belushi, and so why should we care about the movie's dead Belushi?"[7]

Jay Carr for The Boston Globe dismissed the movie as "bummer theater...It's worse than crassly exploitative."[8]

Caryn James for The New York Times began her Wired review with the words, "There is almost no excuse for Wired, a film so devastatingly dull that it seems longer than John Belushi's whole career," before adding "audiences do not like their pop icons tampered with, and in biographical films such tampering is inevitable. Audiences bring to such films vivid images of people they feel they know, and they have consistently rejected movies that fail to reflect that image...Any weeknight, viewers can turn on television reruns of the Saturday Night Live shows that made Belushi famous. And no matter how much Michael Chiklis, the star of Wired, resembles Belushi, his Killer Bee and his Joe Cocker imitation are no match for the highly visible, memorable, syndicated originals."[9]

Richard Corliss, in his review of the film for Time Magazine, singled out Michael Chiklis's "boldly percussive performance," but described the movie itself as a "turkey, overstuffed as it is with mad ambitions and bad karma."[10]

Rolling Stone labeled the movie "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...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." The review also criticizes Michael Chiklis for capturing "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."[11]

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

Michael Chiklis on Wired

Michael Chiklis' participation in Wired derailed the actor's career for 18 months: "After Wired, everyone was afraid to touch me for fear of reprisal...It was a bittersweet situation. All of a sudden, I was starring in a major motion picture and the next thing you know, I'm being asked by reporters, 'Do you think you'll be blackballed?' I literally went from appearing at the Cannes Film Festival, with the whole international press corps asking me questions, to being alone in my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with the phone not ringing. All the dreams and aspirations I'd ever had in my life were in question. It was a humbling, scary experience." Chiklis later told Jim Belushi that he took on the lead role in Wired out of "love, respect and homage" for his brother, and apologised for any hurt he had caused the Belushi family.[12]

References

External links

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