Box-Office Short Circuit for 'Wired'

Times Staff Writer

On Monday morning, in the wake of the weekend death of the movie "Wired" at 680 theaters, the late John Belushi's one-time Blues Brothers partner was still urging moviegoers to stay away.

"These people are exploiting my dead friend," Dan Aykroyd told CBS' "This Morning" co-host Harry Smith. "Of course I'm going to take a position."

"Wired," a $13.5-million movie based on Bob Woodward's book about the life and death of the drug-addicted Belushi, grossed only $681,000 during the weekend for a disastrous per-screen average of $1,001. It is one of the poorest openings of any nationally released film this year.

"Nobody wanted to see the movie, it's that simple," said an executive of one theater chain. "You can't say people didn't know about it."

"Wired" has been the subject of controversy ever since producers Ed Feldman and Charles Meeker obtained the rights to Woodward's book four years ago. Aykroyd was just one of many Belushi friends offended by the book and opposed to a movie version, and pressure had reportedly been applied by Creative Artists Agency, which handled Belushi and represents Aykroyd, to stop the film from being made and then distributed.

The movie was turned down for distribution by every major American distribution company and by most independents. New Visions Pictures had agreed to distribute it, according to the "Wired" producers, but pulled out (the company is run by Taylor Hackford, a CAA client). When Atlantic Entertainment ran into financial problems after agreeing to distribute "Wired," tiny Taurus Entertainment, a division of United Artists, assumed the task.

Last week, "Wired" got caught up in one last gust of controversy when rumors began circulating that major theater chains were being pressured to dump bookings of the picture. Despite the denials of theater chains and the inability of "Wired" producers to identify specific booking cancellations, the rumors received widespread media coverage.

KABC-TV film critic Gary Franklin went on the air last Tuesday and reported that both Pacific Theaters and Cineplex Odeon had dropped bookings of "Wired" in Los Angeles. The next evening, he corrected himself.

Friday, in a story about murdered video executive Jose Menendez, whose company has the video rights to "Wired," the Wall Street Journal reported that, "in what may only be a strange coincidence," full-page ads announcing the opening of "Wired" appeared in newspapers in L.A. and New York on the day of the killing of Menendez and his wife. The Journal went on to report that the day after the Aug. 20 murders, "several theater chains canceled 'Wire.' " "It's ludicrous for anyone to believe an agency can stop us from opening a movie," an executive with Cineplex Odeon said Monday. "One year ago today, we opened 'The Last Temptation of Christ.' We're not afraid of anything."

At least one major chain--New York-based Loews--rejected "Wired" from the beginning, according to the film's producers. Loews is owned by Columbia Pictures Inc., whose two studios--Columbia and Tri-Star--are heavy users of CAA clients.

Most exhibitors contacted by The Times said "Wired" was not booked widely because it was not a very good movie and there were too many major films still doing good business.

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