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NOTE: The images accompanying this review are screencaps of an SD version of this film that do not reflect the quality of the Blu-ray under review.
R.J. Cutler's recent Showtime documentary Belushi shows that early Saturday Night Live star John Belushi was just turning a page on his life and career when he took a fatal drug overdose in 1982. While the 1981 films Continental Divide and Neighbors stand now as failed footnotes to the supernova that was Belushi's film career, they also represent an attempt to avoid retreading Bluto Blutarsky or Jake Blues until the end of time.
The new-to-Blu-ray Continental Divide is particularly strong evidence that Belushi had a future playing more grounded characters that don't completely shed the sly and sloppy aspects of his established comic persona.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill) and directed by Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter), Continental Divide places Belushi in the role of beloved Chicago newspaperman Ernie Souchak. Souchak is a columnist in the midst of a successful run of investigative pieces on a corrupt local politician. When Souchak gets roughed up for the things he's writing, his editor (Allen Garfield, credited under his birth name Allen Goorwitz) tells him to take a story that'll send him out of town for a few weeks.
Souchak's new assignment is Nell Porter (Blair Brown), a kind of Jane Goodall for bald eagles who lives in seclusion in the Rocky Mountains. One gets the sense that Souchak is such a city guy that he has never stepped foot into a public park. Naturally, he is way out of his element in the mountains. His tenderfoot status works to his advantage with Nell, however, because she allows him to stay in her cabin for the two weeks until his guide returns to lead him back to civilization.
Continental Divide doesn't try to get tricky with its plotting. Souchak has his share of troubles adjusting to wilderness life -- including encounters with the local wildlife and an imposing mountain man (Tony Ganios) -- but eventually he comes to like it (kinda). He and Nell start off with some friction over their conflicting worldviews, but eventually they fall for each other. Nell takes longer than Souchak to fall all the way, so there are some semi-queasy moments of him trying to steal a kiss (or more) where she must fend him off. Give credit to Belushi though, because his childish hurt reactions to these blow-offs are more charming than annoying.
Blair Brown is incredibly appealing in her reluctantly romantic role. It's the kind of bright and lively performance that inevitably forces viewers to wonder why her career wasn't bigger. Ah, fickle Hollywood.
Apted's tasteful direction helps distract from the fact that Kasdan's script is a little light on story. Belushi and Brown are charming as all get out, but it's not a huge surprise this flick didn't light the box office on fire. It is the kind of undemanding romantic comedy best suited to pleasantly accompany a Sunday afternoon on the couch. Viewers are recommended to use it for that precise purpose.
Considering the hit-and-miss track record of the masters that Universal maintains for its catalog titles, this AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 presentation is unexpectedly satisfying, with solid detail and no extra sharpening or filtering. It shows sign of age, but no notable damage and the colors look good.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono soundtrack is solid. Clear and well-supported with no major technical flaws. Optional English subtitles are offered.
- Frequent Kino commentator Kremer talks with Belushi biographer Segaloff about the film.
Continental Divide has never garnered the cult following of John Belushi's other movies, but that doesn't mean it's not worth checking out. As evidence that Belushi could have continued to thrive in movies without always resorting to cartoonish antics, Continental Divide is a welcome, low-key surprise. Recommended.
Justin Remer is a frequent wearer of beards. His new album of experimental ambient music, Joyce, is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed. He directed a folk-rock documentary called Making Lovers & Dollars, which is now streaming. He also can found be found online reading short stories and rambling about pop music.