In 1984, Bob Woodward published his much acclaimed and definitive biography on actor John Belushi Wired: The Short Life And Fast Times Of John Belushi. Through extensive interviews and research, Woodward recalls the story of John Belushi’s life objectively. The facts and figures of the life Belushi lead stand on their own as a cautionary tale about drugs and the corruptibility of fame. The brilliance of Woodward’s biography is not in the style, but in the confidence Woodward has in the facts, that they alone will emote and direct the reader. Sadly, this is not true of the film based on Woodward’s book, Wired (1989). Larry Peerce directs the screenplay by Earl Mac Rauch and starring Michael Chiklis as John Belushi. Wired isn’t just known as a creative miss-step or a box office failure, but as an offensively bad piece of cinema. Upon watching the film, it quickly becomes obvious as to why that is.
Like the third act of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, Wired follows Belushi from death (waking up on an autopsy slab) to watching his life replay before his eyes, accompanied by his guardian angel Velasquez (Ray Sharkey). Belushi views his life with horror, unable to prevent himself from self-destructing. So what Wired immediately does is strip Belushi of his humanity, casting him up as a martyr or anti-drug mascot, overshadowing all of his natural talent and warmth with preachy overtones. They cannibalize the subject of their film to warn kids to stay off dope essentially.
What’s worse is that all of the supporting figures in Belushi’s life are morphed into perverted caricatures of themselves. Dan Aykroyd is depicted, when glimpsed at all in the film, as a strung out motorcycle enthusiast and some times Blues Brother. John Landis is presented as a weak and helpless director, a victim of Belushi’s drug abuse. All the while, Belushi never once seems to realize the ramifications his drug abuse has for the peripheral caricatures that populate his world in Wired. If Belushi isn’t destroying someone’s life while high on drugs, he’s being difficult on set.
Constructing both the narrative and the characters in this fashion defeats the purpose of a biopic. The audience is denied any multi dimensional portrait of the main character, and all of the essential facts of the narrative are suppressed to benefit the message of the film. As a historical document of society during Belushi’s life the film fails as well. Always the focus is the destructive nature of drug abuse. The entire movie is shot on poorly lit and poorly constructed sets, preventing even the background of the film from obtaining any sort of dignity.
Now there are bad movies and there are bad movies. The worst movies tend to be made by naïve hopefuls with a vision and no experience and/or talent. Then there are those movies that are even worse than that. Those films are made by professionals, who have great source material, good casts, accomplished technicians and a vast pool of experience to pull from, yet manage to be as bad as Wired. There’s no excuse. The kind of incompetency that Wired reeks of is unprecedented. No wonder Michael Chiklis went around apologizing to everyone depicted in the film when the production was complete.