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Five Movies that Might Have Starred Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were kindred spirits, becoming friends as part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. Aykroyd introduced Belushi to the blues, and that paved the way for the Blues Brothers. Originally appearing as musical “guests” on SNL, the idea evolved into a successful film which established the pair as a powerhouse cinematic duo. Aykroyd, always an idea man, envisioned a lifetime's worth of projects on which the two would collaborate. Unfortunately, Belushi's untimely death meant that these projects would never materialize, at least not in the form originally envisioned. Aykroyd is to be commended for carrying on with several of them anyway, but with each feature he was forced to find a new partner to play the Belushi role, and it seemed nothing ever gelled the way it had with Belushi.
1. Spies Like Us
The pair's last film together, Neighbors, suffered from behind-the-scenes struggles that resulted in a big mess of a movie. Part of this could be due to the pair's last-minute decision to switch roles, with Aykroyd taking on that of the wild party animal and Belushi playing the straight-laced, conservative adult. After some negative critical reaction, they were looking to bounce back, and Aykroyd began promoting their next project before it even started filming. It was to be a spy caper that would play like the old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope road movies. He was describing Spies Like Us.
Of course, Spies Like Us eventually starred Aykroyd and fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. Obviously, Chase brought a different sensibility to the role. Armed with the knowledge that Belushi would have been present had he lived, a viewer can't help but wonder how the film would have felt. Chase was a fine comedic actor at the time, but he and Aykroyd were never particularly close. Their pairing almost seems forced, and even at times uncomfortable. Certainly an Aykroyd/Belushi combination would have added an extra sense of deep camaraderie that would likely have made the proceedings even more enjoyable, possibly leading to further sequels. As it is, Spies Like Us remains an enjoyable feature, but still, something is missing.
Aykroyd began tackling Ghostbusters shortly after Belushi's death. In fact, had Belushi lived, it is likely Spies Like Us would still have been put on hold, as Ghostbusters had generated more studio and producer interest. As originally conceived, Belushi would have co-starred as Peter Venkman. But while it would have been great to see this as a Belushi/Aykroyd pairing, that would dictate the exclusion of Bill Murray, whose movie career might never have gotten the surge that it needed. The film certainly would have had a different feel, but that is not to say Belushi couldn't have handled all aspects of the Venkman character. Indeed, he had already played a lead romantic role in Continental Divide, which, while not perfect, showed promise for his future acting career. Perhaps in Ghostbusters he would have refined this aspect of his acting ability, especially since he would likely have been paired with Sigourney Weaver.
From Tom Hanks's first appearance in this film it is obviously that the role of Pep Streebek was originally conceived for Belushi. The full script might not have been written before Belushi's death, but Aykroyd most likely had a completed story outline waiting to be fleshed out some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The success of Ghostbusters gave him the ammunition to begin development after completing Spies Like Us. As a fan of the original series and an overall law enforcement aficionado, the project was close to Aykroyd's heart. But the movie that eventually appeared is strange, as are most things that Aykroyd conceives. It can't seem to decide if it wants to be a parody, romantic comedy, or part of the buddy-cop action-comedy craze of the 1980s. It is quite likely these problems would still be present with Belushi's appearance. As it is, Tom Hanks does such a respectable job of playing the streetwise, no-respect-for-the-rules, slob partner to Aykroyd's Joe Friday that one has to concentrate with more intensity to imagine Belushi in the role. But after reflection, it's obvious that Belushi was meant to be there. It's not as obvious that he would have been able to improve the film much beyond its status of merely passable entertainment.
4. The Great Outdoors
Although this film was written by John Hughes, it is likely that Belushi would have been the obvious choice to star opposite Aykroyd, instead of John Candy. Candy does a fine job and one hesitates to imagine the film without him, as he is a comedy great in his own right who also left us too early. But as written, his character is from Chicago, where Hughes set many of his films and where Belushi grew up. In fact, Belushi's character in Continental Divide is a Chicago columnist. So all indications point to an Aykroyd/Belushi teaming that might have been. And if it had been, it would likely have been a return to the Neighbors paradigm, with Belushi as the straight man harrowed by rambunctious Aykroyd's antics. However, this time, they likely would have gotten it right, as the final film would indicate.
5. Blues Brothers 2000
One hesitates to even recall that this film exists. Any sequel released eighteen years after the original would have a difficult time recapturing the magic of the first. But without Belushi, one wonders why they even bothered. Perhaps James Belushi's planned appearance as Zee Blues would have softened the blow somewhat, but that still would not solve the problem of a weak plot and even weaker comedy. The combination of John Goodman and Joe Morton (of Terminator 2 and Speed fame) cannot even begin to make up for the lack of the elder Belushi. Had John been alive to participate in these proceedings, he probably would have had some input on the script, and perhaps his contributions would have steered Aykroyd and director John Landis in a better direction. Or perhaps this would have been the film that would have killed both Aykroyd and John Belushi's careers.
Obviously, much of this is conjecture. We know that Belushi and Aykroyd were set to star together in Spies Like Us and Ghostbusters. But we don't know for certain that their partnership would have continued had Belushi lived. It's possible that he would have wanted to break away from previous ties to Saturday Night Live and perhaps even comedy in general, establishing a unique dramatic career much like Bill Murray has. Still, there remain several other comedies in which Aykroyd is paired with another comic actor or two, and one can't help but wonder how these films would have been different, for better or worse, with Aykroyd's true comic foil in those roles. One thing is for sure: the world of 1980s Hollywood comedies would never have been the same.