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Film: "Wired"

Stars: Michael Chiklis, Gary Groomes and Ray Sharkey

Theaters: Annex and Spectrum

Rating: R (language, drug use)

Quality: 1 star(on a scale of zero to five stars)

As a film biography, "Wired," the fast-and-loose story

of gonzo comic actor John Belushi's highly charged life

and death, generates very little electricity. As a work

of narrative filmmaking, it short-circuits entirely.

This controversial movie, roughly based on Washington Post

journalist Bob Woodward's book and made against the wishes

of Belushi's family and friends, adds nothing to our understanding

of what caused the brilliant Belushi's star to flame out

at the tragically early age of 33.

Part of the problem here has to do with the movie's amazingly

weird narrative structure, which has the freshly dead Belushi's

spirit rising from his corpse in the morgue and strolling

through a strange retrospective of his life, accompanied

by an wiseguy Latino cab driver. It's a technique that was

used with equally embarrassing results by Richard Pryor

in his 1986 film autobiography, "JoJo Dancer, Your Life

is Calling."

Perhaps a more central problem is that the real Belushi

and his often brilliant work are still fresh in our memories.

He made his first movie in 1976 and died in 1982. His best

formative work on "Saturday Night Live" is still available

every night on cable television's Nickelodeon station.

A good portion of the film's stroll down memory lane attempts

to recreate some of the Belushi-Dan Aykroyd SNL routines,

and they look pale by comparison with the real things.

Michael Chiklis, the actor who plays Belushi, strives mightily

to capture the frantic spirit of the man. He does a creditable

enough job, but it smacks more of an impersonation than

a full-bodied portrayal. All-in-all, his Belushi emerges

as an obnoxious, selfish, manic bully who was thoroughly

lacking in focus or discipline.

The story trots out, in thin disguise, many of the principal

players in Belushi's life. Gary Groomes contributes a flattering

but flat portrayal of Aykroyd. J.T. Walsh turns in a priggish

and tight-lipped turn as Woodward. Patti D'Arbanville gives

her role as Cathy Smith, Belushi's unwitting executioner,

a saucy twist. Lucinda Jenney has the movie's only truly

sympathetic role as the comic's long-suffering widow.

It's all faithful to Woodward's relentlessly detailed and

clinical book. But as biography, it's lifeless and uninspired.

Worst of all, director Larry Peerce ("Goodbye, Columbus")

and screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch ("Buckaroo Banzai") don't

seem to have the slightest idea of what made the anarchic

Belushi uniquely funny. They seem more interested in delving

into the sordid aspects of his life and the details of his

drug habit than on the psychological mechanisms that made

this squat, homely little man such a mischievously lovable,

and ultimately tragic, comic.

Too bad. There's certainly a lesson to be learned by Belushi's

short-and-sweet life. "Wired" should generate a real emotional

bang, but all it gives off is a pathetic whimper.

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