The SNL musical sketch the Blues Brothers spawned two movies: One in 1980 and one in 1999. And while I’ve never been to Chicago, it’s my understanding that they are something of an icon there having several statues built for them (anyone who’s been to Chicago or from Chicago feel free to correct me on this). Both movies had some great musicians involved (many of whom are sadly no longer with us RIP) and an enjoyable soundtrack. The difference is one has become a comedy cult classic. One has not. So let’s take a look at the both of them.
The Blues Brothers-1980
The first Blues Brothers movie came out in 1980. The story involved recently paroled convict Jake (John Belushi) and his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues who find out the catholic orphanage they grew up in is threatened with foreclosure. After Jake has an epiphany at church the two go on a mission from god to reunite their band and raise the money. Along the way they’re pursued by several members of Illinois law enforcement, a mysterious woman who turns out to be Jake’s homicidal ex fiancé (Carrie Fisher), a country and western band, and Illinois Nazis. The chemistry of Aykroyd and Belushi really bring this movie alive not only during the musical numbers but also in just seeing them together in all the scenes overall. They bring (for a lack of a better word) soul into this movie. Their comedy in this movie has a broad range, balances out the over the topness, and I’d be here all day if I talked about all the funny moments in this movie. The movie also got some really big musical legends on board including Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, etc. and while their scenes are brief that does not prevent them from making the most out of them. And the same can be said for the other cast members including Fisher, the Illinois Nazi leader played by Henry Gibson, and one of the cops played by John Candy. The only ones who don’t feel as memorable are the band members but again they do bring a sense of vibrancy to the movie. They feel like a legitimate group. John Landis’ direction did not only great with the musical numbers (which I’ll get to in a moment) but also the car chases which are some of the best car chases ever put in a movie. The physical comedy is timed great and final chase in Chicago has a grand scale to it that just makes the comedy in this movie in full bloom. Finally there’s the music. Now I have an embarrassing confession to make: I thought when I was younger these were the original versions. Of course, now that I’m older I know better but that hasn’t prevented me from loving the energy, uniqueness, and vibrancy in all of them. They don’t always do much for the story but they’re so enjoyable that it does not matter. Any problems I have with this movie are mostly nitpicks. Like there’s a scene where Elwood meets a girl at a gas station and charges her $94 for gas. I’m not sure what they were planning with that. But nevertheless, Blues Brothers is one heck of a comedy from start to finish whose fun has lasted 40 years now and will no doubt continue to do so.
Blues Brothers 2000
Despite no one demanding it and Belushi having died 17 years earlier, got a sequel 19 years later. This time, 19 years after the events of the first movie, Elwood is released from prison only to find out Jake has died. He visits the nun from the first movie, Mother Mary Stigmata, who now works at a hospital since the orphanage closed, only to find out his father figure Curtis has also died. She informs Elwood that Curtis had an illegitimate son named Cab Chamberlain (Joe Morton) and introduces him to a young boy named Buster who she suggests Elwood mentor him. With the help of Buster and a bartender Mighty Mack McTeer (John Goodman) Elwood sets out to reunite the band again. So many problems in this movie I don’t know where to start. Firstly the fact that the orphanage was closed down between movies, that everything the first movie was working for was completely in vain, is a complete slap in the face. Second there is NO reason for putting the band back together. There’s nothing to chase nothing to gain redemption for. The other band members all are getting along perfectly well. Why anyone left that behind is beyond me. Third Aykroyd’s Chicago accent is so thick it sticks out like a sore thumb whereas in the last movie it was used in moderation. Elwood himself is extremely unlikable in this movie barely dwelling over the deaths of Jake and Curtis, outright defying Mother Mary Stigmata when she warns him not to tell Cab about his heritage, basically kidnapping Buster, and taking the band members from their jobs which they are perfectly content with and that pay well (even one of the members who was willing to offer him one). There’s also stuff that happens that is way too convoluted even by Blues Brothers standards including shaving cream monster Elwood somehow staging a getaway in a cop-filled diner (while the cops just stand there and do nothing), the Bluesmobile being able to drive underwater, literal ghost riders appearing in the sky during the rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky, and the 130-year-old voodoo witch. Yeah the original Blues Brothers had some weird stuff too but it was mostly god’s power considering their mission from god which is evidenced when the Bluesmobile broke down once they reached the tax office. These things along with making kid Buster a sidekick take away from the seriousness from this movie and just give it the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon. The movie tries to build some kind of bond between Buster and Elwood but the two hardly have any moments between them warranting that. John Goodman as Elwood’s new partner in the act Mighty Mack, as much as I like Goodman he just can’t hold a candle to Belushi and he’s not bringing anything to the table here. Him and Aykroyd’s chemistry is hardly there at all. Even the other band members whose chops in the first movie weren’t always great but still felt invested just look old, tired, and unfocused. The movie doesn’t even have an ending as much as stops. Elwood and Buster escape with the police and pursuit and it seems for a moment we’re going to get a great car chase just like in the original but they just roll the credits. There are a few good things about this movie though. One is Joe Morton does provide a good performance as Cab and I really liked the idea of him being a law man in contrast to Elwood’s criminal past. I would have liked to see him getting more in touch with his Blues roots. The movie should have been more about him. Two is the soundtrack is pretty good. But good soundtrack does not equal good movie. If I want the soundtrack, I’ll download it. And it doesn’t change the fact that this is just one sad attempt to relive the glory without the glory. Any love I or Chicago may have for the Blues Brothers hardly comes from this movie. It comes from just all around better.