Theatrical film poster
|Directed by||Larry Peerce|
|Produced by||Charles R. Meeker
Edward S. Feldman
|Written by||Bob Woodward (book)
Earl Mac Rauch (screenplay)
J. T. Walsh
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Editing by||Eric A. Sears|
Lion Screen Entertainment Ltd.
|Distributed by||Taurus Entertainment|
|Release dates||August 25, 1989 (US)|
|Running time||112 minutes|
|Box office||$1,089,000 (US)|
Wired is a 1989 biographical film of comedian and actor John Belushi, directed by Larry Peerce, and adapted from the investigative journalism 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 in his film debut as Belushi. Wired was both a critical and a commercial failure. The film has never been released on DVD, and the videocassette originally released by International Video Entertainment is out of print. The film was marketed with the tagline "For John Belushi, every night was Saturday Night". The film's trailer opted for the tagline "The laughs and times of John Belushi", paraphrasing the title of Woodward's book.
The story follows John Belushi, shortly after his death from a drug overdose in March 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 gains momentum. 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.
- Michael Chiklis as John Belushi
- Ray Sharkey as Angel Velasquez
- J. T. Walsh as Bob Woodward
- Patti D'Arbanville as Cathy Smith
- Lucinda Jenney as Judy Belushi
- Alex Rocco as Arnie Fromson
- Gary Groomes as Dan Aykroyd
- Jere Burns as Lou
- Clyde Kusatsu as Coroner
- Tom Bower as Detective
- Earl Billings as Detective
- Dakin Matthews as Washington Post editor
- J. C. Quinn as Comedy coach
- Steve Vinovich as Studio Executive
- Matthew Faison as Dr. Robbins
- Billy Preston as Himself
John Belushi's widow, Judith, and his manager, Bernie Brillstein, asked Bob Woodward to write a factual book about the actor to counter the speculation and rumours that had arisen after his death. Although Woodward secured interviews with Belushi's family, friends, and associates, he neither requested nor received approval from Judith Belushi before submitting his manuscript for publication. Those close to Belushi claimed that the book was exploitative and not representative of the man they knew. Nevertheless, Wired became a bestseller, albeit one that was publicly criticized by Belushi's family and friends for its sensationalism, and for what they perceived to be a negative and one-sided portrait of the actor. Woodward sought to sell the book's film rights as early as 1984 - the year the book was published - but he found little interest in Hollywood for the project. Woodward later claimed, "A large portion of Hollywood didn't want this movie made because there's too much truth in it." Producers Edward S. Feldman and Charles R. Meeker eventually bought the film rights for the relatively modest sum of $300,000, and, lacking major studio funding, put up $1 million of the film's $13 million budget themselves. The rest of the film's funding came from the New Zealand conglomerate Lion Nathan.
Bob Woodward served as an uncredited technical adviser on the film; the screenplay was written by Earl Mac Rauch, whose previous writing credits included Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (1977), and the science-fiction comedy The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Hired to direct the film was Larry Peerce, a film and television veteran who had directed his wife Marilyn Hassett in the films The Other Side of the Mountain (1975), Two-Minute Warning (1976), The Other Side of the Mountain Part 2 (1978), and The Bell Jar (1979).
Michael Chiklis claimed that it took the producers three years to cast the role of John Belushi. Then aged 25, Chiklis heard about auditions for the part when he was weeks away from picking up his Theatre arts degree at Boston University: "I rushed down to try out... In the first 24 hours, I was called back 57 times to see different people. It was the first movie I ever read for. I was called back three times at first, then six to eight months would go by and I'd be called again, asked to perform two to three times, then nothing for maybe 10 months. I`d just about given up hope, then I`d get another call for more auditions." Chiklis finally won the role of after being chosen over 200 other actors, and he put on 30 pounds for the part. The blue-eyed actor also wore brown contact lenses to more closely resemble Belushi.
The film adaptation of Wired did little to separate itself from the book's dubious 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 Judith Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and James Belushi. However, in many ways, the film version of Wired diverged from its source material. The film 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 film; although Eddie Floyd later performed the song in the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000). However, the screenwriters did manage to work allusions and in-jokes to Belushi's film and TV routines into scenes and dialogue in the film. The film also alludes to the fact that Belushi's fictional guardian angel may not be sending him to Heaven but possibly Hell at the film's end, when Belushi agrees to a pivotal pinball game - a parody of the chess game between the Knight and Death in the Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal (1957).
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. Belushi's Saturday Night Live colleague Chevy Chase is referred to but not seen; dialogue also refers to SNL co-stars Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman by first name (although, like Chase, they are never seen). Other real-life associates of Belushi's are depicted onscreen, but assigned fictional names; for example, Belushi's manager Bernie Brillstein is represented in the film 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, Carrie Fisher and Steven Spielberg) are not depicted in the film at all. Belushi's friend John Landis, who directed the actor in the films National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), flat-out refused to have his name incorporated into Wired and threatened to sue for invasion of privacy, 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 fatal 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". 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 films 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.
Principal photography of Wired commenced in May 1988 and finished in the Autumn of that year. The film was completed by the end of 1988; however, it did not receive a theatrical release until August 1989. The producers of Wired had problems finding a distributor for the film, as many of the major studios refused to distribute it. Several independent studios such as New Visions (then headed by Taylor Hackford) backed away from it. Atlantic Entertainment was about to distribute Wired, but financial problems prevented that from happening, so Taurus Entertainment agreed to distribute the film. In his book Tell Me How You Love The Picture: A Hollywood Life (2005), Wired producer Edward S. Feldman, recalled the film's difficulties securing a distributor. Feldman accused Hollywood powerbroker Michael Ovitz - whose Creative Artists Agency had represented Belushi, as well as Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray - of using his influence to sabotage the production and distribution of Wired. Ovitz himself claimed that "The film will rise or fall based on its own merits... We have nothing to do with the movie." Some studio executives claimed that their reluctance to distribute Wired was due to the film's dubious quality, rather than its subject matter. Bernie Brillstein accused the filmmakers of generating the controversy around the film themselves, in an attempt to improve its commercial prospects: "The only thing that the producers have to hang on to is the image of Wired as "the movie that Hollywood tried to stop"... I think this is a very good plan to get some excitement for the movie." In April 1989, the Los Angeles Times published the article "Another Chapter in the Strange Odyssey of Wired," chronicling in detail the obstacles the film faced throughout its production.
Wired screened at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival in May, three months before the film's general release. Jack Mathews of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film's "world premiere here in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival was one of the most anticipated films in the festival, and it was a mob scene outside the Palais Theatre as reporters, critics and paying customers scrambled for the 850 seats inside. Wired is a highly stylized and very good-looking film that focuses on Belushi's self-destructive impulses and on Woodward's attempts to understand them. But people were walking out throughout the movie. And at the end, the smattering of applause was drowned out by whistles and jeers. The press conference that followed had the lowest turnout of any in the 8-day-old festival, despite the presence of Woodward, whose Watergate coverage for The Washington Post has given him the image in France of an American Musketeer. Woodward was barraged with questions about the portrayal of himself in the film and the critics -- most of them American or Canadian -- did little to hide their animosity for the film." Mathews reported that the audience found the inclusion of Woodward as a character in the film to be "an annoying intrusion into the story," and that Woodward himself responded, "It seems to me the movie is an adaptation of the book, an exceptional one... It deals with the themes with utter clarity and with the correct premise that somehow Belushi had to see or witness what happened in his own life." Rita Kempley of The Washington Post also reported on the film's dubious reception at Cannes: "Festival-goers yesterday recalled a hive of John Belushi's killer bees. They didn't line up for the eagerly awaited Belushi story, "Wired," they swarmed the screening. Stingers sheathed at the outset, the crowd was prepared to love this surreal docudramedy in defiance of the Hollywood establishment, which has been up in arms about it. Instead, the closing credits rolled to hisses, whistles and a smattering of polite applause. The critical consensus was 1½ thumbs down."
Dan Aykroyd made no secret of his ill-feeling towards the production of Wired. During an interview for MTV's The Big Picture, Aykroyd said, "I have witches working now to jinx the thing... I hope it never gets seen and I am going to hurl all the negative energy I can and muster all my hell energies (against them). My thunderbolts are out on this one, quite truthfully." J.T. Walsh, who played Bob Woodward in Wired, was cast in a supporting role in the comedy Loose Cannons (1990), starring Aykroyd, but Aykroyd had Walsh removed from the film because of his participation in Wired. Walsh reportedly worked for two days on Loose Cannons before he was fired and replaced with Paul Koslo, causing the film a $125,000 production delay.
Prior to the release of Wired, Patricia O'Haire of the New York Daily News suggested that Michael Chiklis might be "priced out of reach" (i.e. by the film's success). Instead, 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 James 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. After numerous guest roles in episodic television (including Miami Vice, L.A. Law, Murphy Brown, and Seinfeld), Chiklis gained fame for portraying the lead roles of Commissioner Tony Scali on the ABC police drama The Commish (1991-1996), and LAPD Detective Vic Mackey on the FX police drama The Shield (2002-2008). Chiklis and Wired co-star J.T. Walsh also both appeared in Oliver Stone's film Nixon (1995).
Two years after the release of the Wired film, Judith Belushi wrote her book Samurai Widow (1991) to counter the image of her late husband portrayed in the Wired book and film. She also co-wrote the 2005 oral history book, Belushi: A Biography, with Tanner Colby.
The critical response to Wired was almost uniformly hostile. Wired has an overall approval rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film currently holds a 4.0/10 rating on the Internet Movie Database, based on 450 votes.
Leonard Maltin condemned the movie as "the film fiasco of its year" and "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."
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." Howe also noted that the film version of Woodward "seems to have stumbled out of a "Dragnet" episode."
Vincent Canby for the New York Times described the movie as "a bit fuzzy and off-center." Canby also noted that Chiklis "seems to be doing the role a few years too soon. It's not only that he seems too young, but also that he simply hasn't any idea of what it's like to scrape the bottom of life's barrel." Canby did praise Patti D'Arbanville, "who is exceptionally good as the addict who fatally ministers to Belushi in his last hours. She's a lost, sad character, more vivid than anyone else in the movie."
Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that "Maybe there was no way to make a good movie out of this material, not yet, when everyone remembers Belushi and any actor who attempts to play him is sure to suffer by comparison." Awarding Wired 1&1/2 stars out of 4, Ebert noted that Wired "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." Ebert 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?" In his syndicated movie review show Siskel & Ebert, Ebert did concede that Chiklis did a "good job" with his performance.
Roger Hurlburt of the Sun-Sentinel also gave Wired a 1&1/2-star rating, writing that "we have director Larry Peerce thinking he`s Frank Capra doing It's a Wonderful Life, or worse, Charles Dickens reworking A Christmas Carol... As a film that relies on mystical scenes to join together fact, plus appearing and disappearing characters scattered among confusing time sequences, Wired is a movie of overkill. The fact is, Belushi becomes more unlikable, more idiotic and more pathetically self-destructive as the film progresses."
In his review of Wired for the Houston Chronicle, Jeff Millar noted that Michael Chiklis "looks reasonably enough like Belushi, and he impersonates him well enough to make us frustratingly aware that he is not John Belushi... In the sequences when he is asked to imitate Belushi the entertainer, he is desperately overmatched - any actor would be - against the close memory of a hugely idiosyncratic comic actor. All would have prospered with less banging of head against that immovable object and more time spent with the off-screen Belushi, whose facsimile is unknown to the consuming public... Wired is as fragmented as all get out. It does evoke, one supposes, the sort of maxed-out, destructive life Belushi led. But a price has to be paid. The filmmakers hit upon something that interests us emotionally, but they're so committed to the unstructured structure that they feel obliged to zip away before we have time to get involved... [The movie] hasn't a center, a point of focus. Finally, you wonder, what is this movie about? It purports to be about the American tragedy of drugs, a tragedy that strikes our best and brightest. But the film offers nothing revelatory about "why" Belushi was doomed... None of the heavy hitters who blew coke in Woodward's book are anywhere to be seen in the film. Although there is an implied indictment of the world of show business, virtually no one else who might even remotely be associated with a real person in Belushi's life is seen using drugs; indeed, most of the show-biz types give Belushi vigorous anti-drug lectures or flush his toot down the toilet. If this is The Movie Hollywood Didn't Want Made, it looks as though somebody successfully threatened its makers with broken thumbs."
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 films 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."
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."
Michael Wilmington for the Los Angeles Times praised the performances of Chiklis, D'Arbanville, and Gary Groomes, but had mixed feelings about the film overall, noting that "the crippling flaw in the film lies in its mix of surface daring and inner funk. Inside, it keeps flinching."
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."
In 2008, writer Nathan Rabin posted a retrospective on Wired for his series "My Year of Flops" on The A.V. Club. Rabin wrote, "To call Wired an unconscionable act of grave robbery/defilement would be an insult to the good name of grave-robbers everywhere. There are snuff films with more integrity... Watching Wired, the two questions that pop up constantly are "What the hell were they thinking?" followed by "What the hell were they smoking, and where can I get some?"... I will give Rauch's screenplay this much: it sure is audacious... Rauch apparently set out to write a biopic as irreverent, wild, and unconventional as Belushi himself. The stakes were high. Had the filmmakers succeeded, they would have reinvented the biopic by injecting it with vast ocean of gallows humor, magic realism, and postmodern mindfuckery. The filmmakers took enormous chances, none of which paid off. They shot for the moon and fell flat on their asses." 
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