Archive for August 1989

The Abyss

August 9, 1989

abyss.jpgAudiences failed to flock to James Cameron’s budget-busting (what else is new?) sci-fi adventure, though it should have been a hit (and might have been if not for its lethal mid-August release date). It didn’t help that this was the third 1989 underwater film in a row, after DeepStar Six and Leviathan. It’s one of the most intense movies you’ll ever see. A nuclear sub is disabled by mysterious forces and sinks in the Cayman Trench. A team of oil-rig mechanics, led by estranged couple Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, are assigned to recover the sub, which contains valuable missiles. Joining them are a group of military grunts headed by Michael Biehn, who succumbs to High Pressure Nervous System and promptly goes nuts. While the crew pokes around the submerged wreck, the rig itself is damaged and things look fairly bleak until a bunch of luminescent Spielbergian special effects ­­ the aquatic aliens who had innocently sunk the sub ­­ save the day. Sometimes too high on testosterone and posturing, with some really terrible dialogue (“Roger Ramjet”?), but still a sweatbox classic, suffocatingly claustrophobic at times. As with many Cameron boot-camps, the production was reportedly not a lot of fun for cast and crew; Ed Harris was quoted at the time, “I’m not talking about The Abyss. And I never will.” Score by Alan Silvestri; cinematography by Mikael Salomon. The groundbreaking visual effects (the first extensive use of CGI) won an Oscar.


August 2, 1989

Wired, a dull, schlockified adaptation of Bob Woodward’s overwritten and factually dubious book about John Belushi’s life and death, is unimaginably bad — almost surrealistically bad. The movie was blocked at every turn by Belushi’s friends and by the studios, which all rejected it. Prior to its release, it took on a Last Temptation of John vibe — This Is the Film Hollywood Doesn’t Want You to See. And then it came out, to universally savage reviews and audience indifference.

I’d love to play contrarian and defend Wired as a brave, misunderstood biopic, but it’s a profoundly trivial and tasteless affair. The bad taste can be justified; probably the moviemakers tried to film Belushi’s life the way they thought he would’ve wanted it to be filmed — as a punk-rock, sick-joke satire, with the dead Belushi reaching out of his body bag to scarf a sandwich, or rushing around the morgue and doing the fast twirls he did in Animal House. At certain lonely points in the film you can identify the cuckoo handwriting of screenwriter Earl Mac Rauch, who gave the world Buckaroo Banzai. But director Larry Peerce, a schlock-bio veteran from TV (he’d made Elvis and Me the year before), can’t get a handle on the story’s unstable mix of vicious humor and Sid Vicious pathos.

Belushi, who was obsessed with death — the nihilistic, black-comic allure of death — and built a few Saturday Night Live sketches around the likelihood of his own premature demise, might well have approved of the movie’s scabrous, irreverent concept. But after a while the fantasy touches, such as the guardian angel (Ray Sharkey, another self-destructo dead before his time) who carts Belushi around in a taxi, become annoying and pretentious.

Given the unenviable task of playing Belushi, Michael Chiklis tries hard. Whatever’s wrong with Wired isn’t his fault. He neither looks like Belushi nor has his explosive charisma, but one can respect what he does in the face of such a challenge. (It was a good move for Chiklis to shave his head and go bad-ass in such later projects as The Commish, The Shield, and the Fantastic Four movies; he seems like an entirely different actor now.) He’s certainly better than Gary Groomes, who’s supposed to be Dan Aykroyd but looks more like Kevin Nealon. He just “does” Aykroyd, and does him poorly. As Woodward, poor J.T. Walsh comes off like a Jack Webb clone.

The only life in Wired is Patti D’Arbanville as Cathy Smith, the woman who inadvertently killed Belushi. She makes Smith sympathetic, no mean feat considering Smith had been demonized as the bitch who robbed the world of a comic genius. (It’s pretty obvious that if she hadn’t given him the fatal dose, someone else would have eventually.) Far more than Chiklis, D’Arbanville makes us understand the sad, wasted existence of Belushi in his final days. But she appears midway through the film, which by then is fighting Belushi for room on the slab.