Review: The Blues Brothers
STARRING: John Belushi, Dan Aykrod, plus many more.
DIRECTOR: John Landis
WRITER(S): Dan Aykroyd
RUNTIME: 133 min / USA:148 min (extended version)
OFFICIAL RATING: Four Stars
Here’s the plot breakdown for the unlucky (or perhaps I should say lucky since you will get to experience this for the first time still) few of you who have not seen this movie. Jake & Elwood Blues are faced with a serious dilemma when they find out that the orphanage they grew up in is going to be condemned unless the back taxes can be paid on it soon. The Nun who oversees the place won’t allow any ‘filthy’ stolen money to pass into her hands, so the lanky Elwood and the recently released ex-con Jake now must think up a new scheme to raise the required funds to save their childhood home.
They are helped along in their quest by their adopted father Curtis (the man who taught them the blues) and a cast of other characters, some of whom they must reassemble in order to hit the road and fulfill their ‘mission from God’… Can they ‘put the band back together’ and raise the money in time? Or will they be captured by a vengeful ex? Or the Illinois State Police? Or Illinois Nazi? John Candy? The National Guard? Perhaps an enraged country band? or Aretha Franklin? My God, I haven’t seen a storyline this overbooked since WCW in 1999… Sheesh.
Now let us consider the actual acting in this movie for a bit. Belushi is Belushi. For those who have followed his career, no other explanation is needed. He is a swav, cool and composed individual, with a pent up wildman inside just bursting at the seems to come out and play. Dan Aykroyd is slick dry witted and extremely adapt at handling most automobiles. They both have great chemistry together and are the epitome of cool throughout. Kathleen Freeman steals the show here in only one scene. In case you didn’t know she plays the nun from the opening scene in which Jake and Elwood are first told about the back taxes on the orphanage.
The exchange of profanities between Jake and Elwood while they are seated in front of her is undoubtedly one of the funniest scenes in modern movie history. Also appearing here in a wacky cameo role as the ex girlfriend and stalker of Jake Blues is Carrie Fisher. She normally pops up to give the fellows a few ‘bangs’ right when things are starting to slow down. Among the other numerous hidden gems in this movie are brief appearances by both Johny Candy, Twiggy and even Steven Spielberg himself at the end as the Cook County Assessor.
None of the musicians in this movie are very good actors at all. In fact most of them suck. But their lines are kept to a minimum and it’s not like they were hired for their acting prowess in the first place, so everything evens out in the end. All the villains are portrayed as comical buffoons, which helps increase the humor during the umpteen chase scenes throughout the film.
When I say most of the musicians hired for this movie aren’t any good at acting, I’m mainly referring to the Blues Brothers band themselves. Their lines come off as very amateurish and slow. Among some of the less embarrassing performances here though are delivered by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Cab Callow and Ray Charles. Their parts are not that huge though from a speaking standpoint, but most of them were able to leave a lasting impression in spite, or perhaps even because of that.
Now for those of you who would poo poo on a mere musical, this movie also has you covered as well. You want action? A building blows up, rockets are fired, hundreds of cars crash, and there thousands of armed personnel on the scene.. Most of it is handled in a complete non-serious and comical manner though, so no worries kids. For parents though, the ‘F’ word is used very liberally, as are various other vulgarities. Viewing the DVD version recently, it’s easy to forget what a vulgar movie this is, due to the way it is so heavily edited in TV airings. Definitely not something appropriate for younger children. (Although I watched it as a kid and aside form occasionally threatening to eat other people’s kids at fancy restaurants I turned out alright.. I think…)
Now of course, the main attraction of this movie for many, myself included, is not the acting, the comedy, or the action, but the music. To those who would inquire if it is any good, I say… Are you f’n kidding me with that kind of question? (Ok, I know I asked it, *pops meds*) This movie is chocked full of musical goodness. From legends like James Brown and Aretha Franklin, to the surprisingly talented duo of Belushi and Ackroyd themselves this movie is an absolute joy to the ears. I actually own some of the Blues Brothers albums and they are packed full of energy and vibrancy. What they may lack in classical skill they more than make up for in passion and oomph. The story goes in fact that Belushi and Ackroyd first met in a bar while discussing blues music.
The musical performances in this movie are all classic. Everyone you can possibly think of is here and in full force. My personal favorite numbers here are the ‘Raw hide’ theme song and the closing Jailhouse rock cut. Basically, this is one of the few, if not the only musical comedy that it’s okay for a heterosexual male to like. Here’s a rundown of the musical numbers that I can remember.
James Brown performs a few of his classic hits in a church, while Jake and Elwood especially begin to get their ‘vision’ of what they’re supposed to do. John Lee Hooker does ‘boom boom’. Aretha Franklin does a rousing rendition of ‘Think’ while Ray Charles pumps out a rocking version of ‘Shake Your Tailfeather’ (No, not that awful Nelly song) And finally Jake and Elwood perform numerous great rhythm and blues songs throughout the film.
As for the direction, you got John Landis, the same man who made Animal House a few years earlier, and who at the time still had many classic movies in his future, back with a vengeance here. This movie is packed up to the max with visual style and despite it’s long running time, it never drags in the slightest. The only downfall for me over the years has been the poor quality of the film itself used in this movie. Due to this, the movie for years after its release in the theatre has a tendency to look rather poor on small screens due to the darkness that permeates the screen. Other than that small complaint though, I can’t think of anything really worth harping about.
One of the things that I love about this movie is its re-watchability. From beginning to end there is always something memorable going on, whether it be a classic piece of dialog, a great song, or a high speed car chase, it’s hard to pull myself away from this whenever I see it is on the air.
Despite everything else there is to feast your senses upon here, for me John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are the ones who steal the show in this one. From their cool as hell suits complete with hats and sunglasses it’s very hard to take your eyes off of them for a second. Belushi was such an enigmatic presence here that it only makes it more and more distressing to think about what talent was lost here due to his untimely passing.
Aykroyd here plays the perfect straight man to Belushi’s wild man antics throughout the film. Most memorably of which for me was the classic diner scene in which Belushi and Ackroyd both do their best to behave like total uncooth slobs at an upscale restaurant, Belushi even going so far as to offer to purchase the women and children of the table next to them. It would have been a very easy scene to turn into a farce or a parade of slapstick, but they both somehow manage to keep it believable and more importantly, hilarious.
The two of them possess the kind of chemistry here that can only be found between close friends. And in the end, I believe that is part of the great appeal of this movie for many people. More than the music, or wacky on goings, this is in the end a ‘buddy picture’ between two guys who seem like they could be any average joe you could run into at any bar in America.
Elwood Blues seems to possess an above average knowledge about automobiles, which is in direct keeping with the real Akroyd who is in fact an extreme car enthusiast. Jake Blues here is simply the same wild and lovable John Belushi that the world had come to know and love during his time at SNL and in previous movies such as 1941 and Animal House. So if you’re up for a wild song and dance filled, laugh stocked, car crashing, rip roaring ode to the blues, look no further than the two eternal icons of cool, Jake and Elwood. The Blues Brothers.