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Rainiac Reviews: Blues Brothers 2000 June 15, 2009

Posted by Rainiac in film reviews, rants.
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Before I begin, just a little notice about the finale of Let’s Play Kick Master. All the footage has been recorded (shitty laptop handling issues be damned) but as of yet I haven’t had much chance to record the commentary. That might change later this week though, so watch this space…

Anyway, I’ve decided to start doing movie reviews. And for the first review, there’s only one film I could possibly choose. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I bring you a review of…

The poster for Blues Brothers 2000

For those not in the know on who the Blues Brothers were/are (and I’m guessing that’s the majority of people reading this), allow me to fill you in with a little backstory. The Blues Brothers began life as a real-life band in Canada, led by comic actors Dan Aykroyd (Known, amongst other things, for the Ghostbusters films) and John Belushi. The two were avid fans of the musical genre known as Rhythm and Blues, and decided to gather talented musicians to form their own Blues band, with themselves as the singers. Their goal was to try and re-introduce the world to rhythm and blues. Rather than performing under their real names, the two comics adopted fictional personas: Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Aykroyd) Blues, and became the Blues Brothers. The newly formed Blues Brothers Band released their first album in 1978, ‘a Briefcase full of Blues’, which was a moderate success. However, it was in 1980 that the band really took off, when all of them (with the exception of the band’s original keyboardist Paul Shaffer, who had commitments to Saturday Night Live at the time and had his role in the band taken by an actor-musician called Murphy Dunne) appeared in the now- cult classic, The Blues Brothers, a movie which to this day ranks among my all-time favourites, in large part due to some absolutely manic car chases and just hilarious comedy overall. Sadly, tragedy struck in 1982 when John Belushi died prematurely, stymieing the inevitable sequel. Finally, in 1998, Dan Aykroyd decided the time had come to make that sequel, and so Blues Brothers 2000 was born. With Belushi dead, they obviously couldn’t bring back Jake, so Aykroyd wisely took the Band in a new direction, introducing a new co-singer in ‘Mighty’ Mack McTeer (played, quite well I might add, by John Goodman), and adding two more ‘Brothers’ to the fold: Buster Blues (J. Evan Bonifant), an orphan boy who Elwood is tasked with mentoring, and Cab (Joe Morton), who starts off as the chief of police and is determined to hunt down and arrest Elwood but has a change of heart later in the film and joins the band instead. Having loved the original so much, I was under the impression that the sequel would be just as good…

Sadly, after finally watching this film for the first time this year, I was left with the sense that perhaps they shouldn’t have bothered making it after all. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but it does have some major flaws which prevent it from even lacing up the boots of the original. Perhaps the first problem it has is that it tries too hard to be like the original. Obviously, there’s always going to be some of the original present in any sequel, but I feel that BB2000 took it to an unwarranted extreme. People featured in the original, like Frank Oz, Aretha Franklin and even James Brown not only return, but return in their original roles, while some of the concepts and gags feel unnecessarily recycled. There’s too many examples to mention, but ones that stood out in particular include Cab beaming up to heaven and claiming “he’s seen the light”, which is eerily similar to the way Jake has a heavenly epiphany in the original. Also, the Russian gangsters who act as the primary antagonists of the film (other than the ever-present Police) are clearly an attempt to re-create the Neo-Nazis from the first film without actually including the Neo-Nazis. Worse still, the few original gags that are used aren’t that funny to begin with, and one scene, where Elwood dashes out of ‘Bob’s Country Kitchen’ (a not so subtle reference to ‘Bob’s Country Bunker’ from the first film) with shaving form all over his face in an attempt to escape a policewoman who has entered the diner to find and arrest him, is downright cringeworthy. That being said, Elwood saying to the band “there’s no looking back” after a particularly crazy pile-up only for them to look back as one man was pretty funny, I must admit, but that one gag can’t cover up the fact that the film as a whole had few original jokes that were actually funny…

The film has other problems too. While the original certainly had elements that were ‘fantastical’, for the most part the film was half-grounded in reality and logic, and was all the better for it. It managed to be chaotic without being ridiculous. Sadly, the sequel takes a turn for the worse by including voodoo, a divine lightning bolt from the heavens which takes out a Russian sniper, a white supremacist being crushed to death by a powerboat that somehow gets launched 40 feet into the air just by the Band driving their car (which can drive underwater: eat your heart out James Bond) underneath the boat and then driving off, and Cab’s aforementioned conversion. These elements felt like they were tacked on (although again, they did have their funny moments) and in all honesty I would have preferred not to see them (especially the voodoo), but maybe that’s just me. Perhaps the reason for these apparent faults is due to the film’s rating. The original was a 15 certificate and was proud of that fact, making frequent use of foul language and more ‘adult’ content, and funnily enough the film was all the better for it. Blues Brothers 2000, however, is a PG, which goes a long to way to explaining why the film is like it is. By opting to go PG, they made sure they couldn’t possibly recreate the original’s feel and magic. It was probably a smart decision on the film makers’ part (not that smart mind, the film tanked), but as a die hard aficionado of the first film, I can’t help but feel disappointed by what BB2000 is and what it might have been if they’d just been a bit braver and even made it a 12A as opposed to a PG.

That’s not the say everything about the film is bad, however. The new characters introduced actually work pretty well. Mack McTeer is a fairly good replacement for Jake Blues, and the addition of Buster Blues, while an embodiment of the new PG direction, was sheer genius and works well within the context of the film (technically, it’s Buster who’s Jake’s replacement, not Mack, but since Mack has Jake’s old spot in the band, that’s who I see as Jake’s replacement). Cab, on the other hand, is underused after he joins the band, but you can’t win them all. There’s also some nice nods to the first film, with old characters and concepts returning and even a cameo for Paul Shaffer, the man who wasn’t able to appear in the original. Best of all, the film has an absolutely awesome soundtrack which I would wholly recommend you try and track down if you can. Standout tracks include a unique Blues twist on the old theme tune to Perry Mason and ‘Looking for a Fox’, belted out by Goodman (who can surprisingly sing pretty damn well), but pretty much all of the soundtrack is good in one way or another.

Try as it might, however, Blues Brothers 2000 just can’t escape the ghost of John Belushi. However decent John Goodman is as his replacement, it’s missing his indomitable presence and that’s why it just can’t measure up to the original. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch this film, hell, maybe you should just for the music, but if you do decide to take the plunge, a word of advice: go in with low expectations. That way you might just be pleasantly surprised…

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