Ernie Souchak (John Belushi) is Chicago's top newspaper columnist, and the reason for that is his way with an expose. No scandal amidst the higher echelons of the city's political life will be brushed under the carpet while Ernie is on the case, which is why his editor, Howard McDermott (Allen Garfield), is increasingly concerned for his safety. The situation comes to a head when Ernie is mugged, but gets along so well with the criminals that they give him back his wallet and watch when he agrees to stall the cops - only for the cops to beat him up...
Talk of John Belushi now and a few things come to mind, but mostly either his talent for giving one hundred percent to his brash but sympathetic comedy stylings, or how he died too young for that talent to develop into new areas. But before he left us, he did star in one film that showed he was no one-trick pony, and that was Continental Divide, which was patterned by writer Lawrence Kasdan after the classic Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy comedies of yesteryear. Belushi took the Tracy role, and the redheaded Blair Brown was in the Hepburn one, and what this happened to be was a decidedly un-Belushi-like romantic drama with comic trappings.
So caught up in its romance does this film become that you wonder why they bothered with all the political stuff at all, as it seems to have been crowbarred in from another movie, a reporter-conspiracy effort from the previous decade for instance. It does give Ernie the excuse the plot needs to get out of town, fearing for his safety even if he would rather stay and fight the corruption, but surely a more humorous explanation could have been settled on? Anyway, off to the Rockies he goes, to interview an ornithologist called Nell Porter (Brown) who has been up a mountain for four years with barely any human contact.
Her reasons for doing this are to study the American Bald Eagle, which conservationists are concerned about as there are only "two thousand" of the birds left. The film doubles as an environmental case of pleading for the cause of these creatures, and there is quite a bit of handsome footage of the eagles to accompany acres of impressive scenery that Belushi and Brown act out their relationship in front of. As you'll have noticed, this is a far cry from the irreverence of Saturday Night Live, which Belushi had recently left, evidently looking for a chance to show off his range in a Steven Spielberg production that didn't involve a lot of comic destruction.
What emerges as a drawback is that the romance that develops between Ernie and Nell, which naturally begins from a point of antagonism, may be sweet, but the humour is like something out a TV movie. You yearn for a snappy line, for a witty rejoinder, for something laugh out loud funny for Belushi - and indeed Brown - to get their teeth into, but mostly there's mush. Not what his fans were expecting at the time, which explains its underwhelming box office appeal then and near-forgotten status today, but if you forget you're supposed to be watching something that tickles the funny bone, or at least put it to one side, there's a perfectly touching love story here. When the two stars are apart, the film is a little flat, but together they had a pleasing chemistry; not Tracy-Hepburn level, but something that deserved sharper material, although the denouement is agreeably tender. Music by Michael Small.