Elwood (repeated line): “We’re on a mission from God.”
Beware: Spoilers may follow
A movie based on an SNL musical sketch is certainly risky to make. What might work, as a musical sketch may not translate that well to a 2-hour film. This is something that could have easily backfired. However, with the help of some great music, remarkable performances (in both acting and singing), and some amazing stunts this would become a film masterpiece and a Chicago icon with statues of the Blues Brothers erected around the city
The story revolves around the Blues Brothers Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) after Jake is released from prison. They visit their childhood home where they find out from nun Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) and their adopted father Curtis (Cab Calloway) that unless they can raise $5000 in property taxes the orphanage will be closed. At Curtis’ persuasion the two go to church seeking redemption to help save the orphanage. After Jake has an epiphany at the church he figures that they can reform their old band back together to raise the money. Thus our heroes set out to reunite with their old band members who disbanded while Jake was in prison (Steve “the Colonel” Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Murphy Dunne, Willie “Too Big” Hall, Tom “Bones” Malone, “Blue Lou” Marini, Matt “Guitar: Murphy, and “Mr. Fabulous” Alan Rubin) and perform some gigs to raise the money. Along the way they are pursued by the Chicago police, another band called the Good Ol’ Boys, Illinois Nazis, and Jake’s mysterious and nameless vengeful ex-fiancé (Carrie Fisher).
The story itself is relatively simple. It’s a very bizarre but earnest and honest quest for redemption to save their childhood home. What sets it apart however, is the magnitude of their actions in doing so: All the people they anger along the way, the car chases, all the people pursuing them, all the property damage they cause along the way, and the giant Palace Motel gig they set up and perform. Even though these two become extremely wanted men along the way you still root for them given they are doing what they are for a just cause.
The car chases in this movie are brilliant every step of the way from the various one-liners by all our characters to the brilliant stunts performed. This movie once held the record for the most cars crashed in a film and the movie really shows. All the stunts done during these chases are ones that will probably never will nor be able to be replicated again. All of them are practical effects meaning no CGI, stunt doubles, wires, or any other postproduction techniques.
The music in this movie is top notch. They don’t always move the story along but they are sung and performed by very talented people such as our leads, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and James Brown. Even the production crew has a small part at the end credits where they all sing part of the song and you can tell that they were having a lot of fun making this movie or at the very least knew that what they were making would satisfy many people. Some of the great songs in this movie include Old Landmark, Think, Shake your Tail Feather, Rawhide, Stand by Your Man, Everybody needs somebody to Love, Sweet Home Chicago, and Jailhouse Rock.
The humor in this movie is very creative in its variety including slapstick humor, the car chases, the deadpan but epic one-liners by Jake and Elwood in regards to the people pursuing them, other one-liners by those chasing them, and the absurd amount of people in the task force chasing them in the climax.
John Belushi is excellent as Jake. Though there are other good parts of this movie he is primarily what makes it. He functions as the wildcard between the two brothers; he’s the one that leads the band through their gigs (which is especially evidenced by the fact that the band only split during his imprisonment) and tours. And the bond him and Elwood have is genuine. They have their share of heartwarming moments and you can tell they both have a blast singing and dancing to the songs throughout the majority of the movie. Dan Aykroyd as Elwood is also a lot of fun to watch. He works sort of as the straight man setting up for the humor in the movie and his one-liners are very funny.
The other band members are very mixed in their acting chops. There isn’t much to their characters individually but they seem interested in helping do the right thing for Jake and Elwood whether they’ve fallen on hard times or not. Their acting really works to the advantage of the film in that you feel the bond between them and the brothers. It feels like these guys are just a bunch of good friends who were given a bunch of money to make a movie together.
The movie also features cameos by Carrie Fisher as Jake’s mysterious and nameless ex-fiancé, Henry Gibson as the leader of the Illinois Nazis, Charles Napier as one of the Good Ol’ Boys, Jeff Morris as Bob as a bar owner, John Candy, Armand Cermani, and Steven Williams as the cops pursuing them. All these actors give remarkable performances and just the lengths they go towards and hate they have for the Blues Brothers is a leads to a lot of funny moments.
The only minor problem with the movie is that there’s this small subplot where at a gas station Elwood meets a lady (Twiggy) at a gas station and winds up standing her up. The plot line is somewhat random doesn’t really seem to go anywhere and she never appears again.
This movie is easily one of the greatest comedies that the world of film has to offer. It has virtually everything going in is favor. It blends in action, comedy, and music into one heck of a fun movie that neither had nor ever will be rivaled. It means a great deal to its film critics, film audiences, and Chicago. And there would be nothing that could tarnish this movie’s legacy.