Saturday Night Live announced last week that cast members Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, Aidy Bryant and Kyle Mooney are leaving to pursue other career opportunities, changing the trajectory of the longtime sketch show.
Over 150 movies have featured former SNL “Not Yet Ready for Primetime” Players. Most, but not all, have been comedies and many have been box office hits. Adam Sandler, Chevy Chase, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Mike Myers, Kristen Wiig, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi all are familiar matinee names. Let’s skip the obvious hits like the “Austin Powers,” “Vacation” and “Ghostbusters” and explore several other big screen favorites.
I know… if you’re going to talk about John Belushi movies you usually discuss “Animal House” (1978) or “The Blues Brothers” (1980). The comedic star only made seven films in four years of his tragic drug-fueled life. But my favorite Belushi performance is 1981’s “Continental Divide” directed by Michael Apted and written by Lawrence Kasdan. Belushi is Chicago investigative reporter, Ernie Souchak, who has exposed some very corrupt and now very angry local officials. He’s assigned to get out of town and cover Dr. Nell Porter (Blair Brown) researching the nesting habits of bald eagles in the Rocky Mountains. A classic fish out of water romance develops as we watch the city-bred and inept Souchak adapt to life in the wilderness. Belushi was never more charming or vulnerable.
Granted, Will Forte is not the most famous SNL cast member but he was featured for eight years. In “Nebraska” (2013), directed by Alexander Payne, Forte is the dutiful son of the cantankerous Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) who wants to leave his Montana nursing home to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his “winnings” from a dubious mail-order lottery. Various travails, including visits to long-lost family members, challenge their father/son relationship. Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Actor (Dern) and Supporting Actress (June Squibb as Woody’s long suffering wife).
Eddie Murphy might be the biggest superstar in SNL history. And several of his earliest movies such as “48 Hrs” (1982), “Trading Places” (1983) and “Coming to America” (1988) are now considered classics. But for my money, “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984) is the perfect vehicle for Murphy’s comedic talents. Another fish out of water action thriller showcases Detroit undercover cop, Axel Foley, as he invades uptight Beverly Hills to solve the murder of a childhood friend. Judge Reinhard, John Ashton and Ronny Cox co-star as Beverly Hills (by the book) police officers.
Although John Belushi’s legacy will always be prime in the Belushi family, his brother, Jim, another multi-year SNL legacy, is more diverse and storied. One of the earliest turns from his comic persona is as “Doctor Rock” in Oliver Stone’s “Salvador” (1986). Playing a friend to an Oscar-nominated James Woods, both of whom find themselves entangled in a brutal Salvadoran Civil War, the film is a restrained and calculated effort by director and stars alike. Though not without Stone’s signature anti-imperialist commentary, the film would be overshadowed by his own “Platoon” which was released later in the same year.
Maya Rudolph’s career has taken a turn towards Hollywood and prestige TV, but it can be easy to forget that she spent the better part of a decade cutting her teeth on SNL. One of her strongest films during the latter part of her SNL time is Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” (2007). Playing a prostitute named “Rita” who is assigned to a special “suspended animation” mission alongside an undistinduished army corporal, aptly named “Joe” (Luke Wilson), both are essentially frozen for 500 years. When they wake up, they are in a United States in which people wear gym clothes 24/7, rarely look up from big-screen TVs, are inundated with corporate branding, and find themselves in a food shortage. (Does any of this sound familiar?) The president, An unbelievably predictive film about our modern era, Judge’s vision of the future will convince you of the existence of crystal balls or time warps.
There are few Hollywood career turns more noticeable than Adam Sandler in the Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems”, but I’m going to call out an earlier marker of his dramatic heft: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002). No less anxiety-inducing than “Uncut Gems”, Anderson’s film about a not-so-successful entrepreneur in love with the sister of one of his coworkers (Emily Watson) places the low-brow comedian in a finely-tuned arthouse melodrama. What follows is no deviation from Sandler’s usual brand of cringe-inducing laughs, but with the notable exception that this film contains a great deal of heart and emotional wisdom.
(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)