The Disowned Dan Aykroyd Movie That Prompted A Murder Investigation
Dan Aykroyd’s an interesting guy. He’s such an integral part of American screen comedy thanks to iconic movies like Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers and Trading Places that it’s easy to forget how, uh, unusual he is.
While his contemporaries on Saturday Night Live were doing all the drugs in the world and raging against the system, he was spending all his money on expensive motorcycles and talking about the blues a lot. He’s as well-known for his passions and business ventures off the screen — his love of the music genre that led to the House of Blues chain, his obsession with the supernatural, his classy-yet-silly vodka brand Crystal Head — as on it. He’s a part-time paleontologist, a part-time sheriff’s deputy and still regularly performs with the Blues Brothers Band.
At the same time, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was frequently in five or six movies a year. Some of them were incredible; some were total crap. The Washington Post once remarked, “It may be that Dan Aykroyd has been a party to more unwatchable films than any other major American star.”
Loose Cannons — which prompted the above comment — co-stars another actor with a similarly lengthy but inconsistent resume. Gene Hackman is now 92, and when the cold hand of winter comes for him, he will rightly be remembered for movies like The French Connection, The Conversation and Unforgiven, total masterpieces. His own five-movies-a-year periods produced more forgettable fare — like Aykroyd, he’s made movies that proudly sit in the Criterion Collection and movies that deservedly sit in the 99-cents bin.
Loose Cannons is not in the Criterion Collection. It has a premise that is offensive in a lot of ways. It concerns two cops trying to track down a video tape of Hitler having gay sex — but the twist is, one of the cops has some form of what we would now call dissociative identity disorder, so he keeps changing accents and doing impressions of people. It’s not good!
In these more enlightened times, Aykroyd’s portrayal of someone with multiple personalities comes across as pretty insensitive, but it’s worth noting that 1) it was a different time; and 2) with both a childhood diagnosis of Tourette’s and an adult self-diagnosis of Asperger’s, Aykroyd is neurodivergent himself. What rubbed people up the wrong way at the time was the feeling that the role was written with a different comedian in mind — several reviews accused Aykroyd of unsuccessfully channeling Robin Williams.
Literally every person involved in the movie has at least 10 better ones to their names. It was co-written by Richard Matheson, among the most influential sci-fi and horror writers of the 20th century — he wrote I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man and Duel, as well as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” among the most iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone. Sharing screenplay credit with him were his son, Richard Christian Matheson (who had worked on several enormously successful TV shows including The A-Team, Three’s Company and The Incredible Hulk), and director Bob Clark, who made Porky’s, A Christmas Story and Black Christmas.
It’s not even, amazingly, the best movie to feature a genre-straddling Dan Aykroyd duet over the credits, as that honor clearly goes to Dragnet — Aykroyd’s old-school interplay with Tom Hanks, incorporating the Miranda rights, honestly pretty much fucking slaps (plus the video was choreographed by Paula Abdul).
Loose Cannons, meanwhile, offers up a duet with the great Katey Sagal that sounds like two songs inelegantly combined — Sagal is almost doing a Bond theme, a beautifully performed ballad of intrigue, while Akyroyd comes in jarringly on the choruses yelling “Whoa!” a lot.
All of which is to say, there has been very little call for anyone to think about Loose Cannons since it came out. It got shitty reviews — it has 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — and made very little money, and everyone involved kept working on bigger and better things. But a decade ago, several people had cause to think about it rather intensely: namely an admirably diligent landfill employee and the homicide division of the Calgary police.
The landfill employee found some 35-millimeter film on site, which he held up to the light to take a look at. While it was dirty and damaged, he could make out what seemed to be a murder taking place, or its immediate aftermath — a man standing above a bullet-ridden corpse holding a blade. He immediately notified the police, who opened a murder investigation. But they had no name, no victim, nothing but this footage.
The department later said in a press release, “Several hours were spent trying to determine the legitimacy of the images, which were heavily damaged. Once somewhat restored, the filmstrip seemed to feature Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd.” (Calgary Police did not respond to requests for additional information.)
But this wasn’t Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy or My Girl — only when they contacted Aykroyd’s representatives did Loose Cannons come up, allowing the scene in question to be pinpointed. In the mirth-free sequence, Aykroyd proves a shot man is German by extracting a pin made by a German company from his leg and demonstrating his boxer shorts’ lack of a “pee-pee hole.” A police spokeswoman sensitively described it as “a film not many people saw.”
So it all ended happily — much like the movie itself, in which Hackman and Aykroyd’s characters overcome their personal differences and grow to respect one another, offing some Nazis along the way. Aykroyd escaped his brief spell as a person of interest in a murder investigation unscathed. When contacted about the episode by gossip site TMZ, he said, “The movie should have been left in the landfill where it belongs.”