Lionsgate // 2005 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // September 12th, 2005
"I logged a lot of miles training for that day. And I've downed a lot of donuts."
Finally, NBC has decided to embrace their past by releasing compilation discs of Saturday Night Live legends like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner. With all due respect to the producers, releasing collections for such show "stalwarts" as Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan before Dan, John, and Gilda's "Best Of" discs seems to be a clear displacement of priorities. It's amazing (and quite unbelievable) that a larger part of the population would want to see Mango more than they would Joe Cocker or Elwood Blues.
While Lorne Michaels was putting the "Not Ready for Prime Time" cast together, Belushi resisted joining the show. He even went so far as to tell anyone involved in the hiring process that not only did he "not do television," but that his television was covered in spit, the result of his disgust. However, Belushi started to change his tune once his friend, Michael O'Donoghue, was hired as a writer. He suddenly wanted to become a part of the show. A lot of Belushi's friends and collaborators had been hired by this time, including Radner, Paul Shaffer and Chevy Chase. The three of them lobbied an ambivalent Michaels and Dick Ebersol to bring him aboard. Once he was hired, the cast dynamic was permanently transformed.
Belushi was the free spirit of the bunch; he rarely rehearsed his parts, and he was willing to throw himself headlong into any sketch. He quickly adapted to stardom and appeared as several regular characters, the notable ones being his samurai character and his interpretation of Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone. He frequently served as an editorial counterpoint to Jane Curtin on the "Weekend Update" segment, and did a legendary impression of British soul singer Joe Cocker that must be seen to be appreciated. (Belushi's take on Cocker holds up surprisingly well with Cocker's own Woodstock performance.) Despite some apprehensions about leaving for Hollywood (wary of the drubbing that Chase received when he left after only one year on SNL), with Aykroyd, the two as The Blues Brothers became legendary. Combining the big screen version of Jake and Elwood with their successful music albums and SNL appearances resulted in mythic success. Consider one season where he worked on the show along with film work for two projects (including Animal House), he was all over the entertainment landscape, long before anyone had ever heard of Jennifer Lopez. Unfortunately, after O'Donoghue left the show in 1978, Belushi perhaps may have felt that there wasn't too much left for him.
Belushi was not without his demons. He was a heavy drug user, to the point that his wife was forced to hire bodyguards that would help to prevent him from succumbing to his excesses. As everyone knows, Belushi died of drug-related causes in 1982. While there is ample room for comparison between the death of Belushi and Chris Farley's death several years later, a few things do make Belushi's death different from Farley's. Belushi was far more of a charmer than Farley, and everyone around Belushi admits this. Also, rehabilitation was practically unheard of in the early '80s. Farley went through rehab on numerous occasions to no avail. It's John's brother Jim who puts it best, in the book Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Miller: "He led us in comedy, he led us in film, and he led us into rehab. He was before all of us."
Lions Gate has put together a modest collection of Belushi highlights from his time on the show. There are some obvious inclusions, such as Belushi in the short film Don't Look Back in Anger, where he plays an elderly version of himself as the last surviving member of the original cast, providing for some poignant moments. All of the favorites are here, but there are some surprising inclusions too. Belushi as the "wilderness comedian" that made the animals laugh was a hilarious take on the Grizzly Adams show which aired on NBC around the same time. His role as the loud and obnoxious Hulk at a mixer hosted by Superman and Lois Lane has a few laughs in it as well.
Along with the sketch highlights, there is some extra material for Belushi fans. Aside from a mail-in rebate offer to an upcoming authorized biography of Belushi, there is some interview footage with Gene Shalit and Aykroyd as the two not only promote the theatrical release of Neighbors, but also a "Greatest Hits" album from the Blues Brothers. An interview from Rolling Stone is next, and in it, Belushi talks about the work he was doing at the time, and how he managed to get to the show. Lastly is an 18 minute look at Belushi featuring interview footage from most of the cast and writers from the time, including Aykroyd, Newman, Michaels, and Ebersol. This featurette focuses on Belushi's time on the show, both in front of and behind the camera, and doesn't spend too much time on one topic. It appears that this footage may be extra footage from Saturday Night Live -- The First Five Years, so there aren't any new interviews to speak of.
As a whole, The Best of John Belushi is a pleasant stroll down memory lane with the person synonymous with the show's early successes, but is also a painful reminder of how tragic his loss was to the world. Newer fans of the show would serve themselves well by watching the ones who made the show what it's become.
Review content copyright © 2005 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview Footage
* Still Gallery
* Screen Test
* Official Site
* Unofficial Fan Site