The Blues Brothers (1980) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running Time: 133 min. (148 min. extended version)
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, Cab Calloway, John Candy, Charles Napier, Jeff Morris, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Kathleen Freeman, Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn, Murphy Dunne, Willie Hall, Tom Malone, Lou Merloni, Matt Murphy, Alan Rubin, Steve Lawrence, Twiggy, Frank Oz, Steve Williams, Armand Cerami, John Lee Hooker, Steven Spielberg, Chaka Khan (cameo), Stephen Bishop (cameo), John Landis (cameo), Paul Reubens (cameo), Joe Walsh (cameo)
Director: John Landis
Screenplay: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Review published October 22, 2005
The Blues Brothers ranks among my favorite films of all time -- not the best, just a favorite. With inspiration that never remotely comes close to ceasing, Landis' (The Kentucky Fried Movie, An American Werewolf in London) film is more an experience than a conventional movie. It's a mix of loving homage to rhythm and blues, scattershot comedy, on-the-spot musical, and the most outrageous car chase film ever put to celluloid. It's a laugh-a-minute destruction derby that defiantly refuses to conform to standard rules of moviemaking, frequently transcending the simple story of a band reuniting with religious overtones, wanton destruction, and one of the finest soundtracks to a movie ever.
The film starts out with Jake Blues (John Belushi, Animal House) being released from prison, picked up by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places) in a used cop car turned "Blues Mobile". They make good on a promise to visit the orphanage they grew up in, only to find it is in danger of being shut down due needing $5,000 in tax money owed. With only days to go before it is too late, the Blues Brothers are inspired by a vision from God to save the orphanage, which they plan to do by reuniting the band they played in. This proves to be a tough task, as all of the members have moved on to other occupations. Not only this, but along the way, they manage to piss off the police, the Illinois Nazi Party, and just about everyone else they come across in their bid to make enough money to deliver the money they need.
Exuding just the perfect amount of comic cool, Belushi and Aykroyd strut their stuff with confidence, giving oodles of personality to the characters they created during their stint on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s. The band is quite a talented cover band in their own right, demonstrating their love for the music and attitude of blues and soul, and also the artists responsible for the continued popularity of the genres. Strong cameo appearances are a major strength, with some fantastic musical numbers by James Brown (performing Gospel), Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, and of course, The Blues Brothers themselves.
The comedy is so off-the-wall you can't help but laugh. The Blues Brothers go on their comic odyssey in deadpan fashion, almost literally leaving behind every stop destroyed, and yet, they seem almost oblivious to it all. Just when you think the madcap nature of the film couldn't possibly get any more silly, Landis ends the film with almost a half hour of the most expensive, elaborate, and destructive chase sequences ever put on film. Cars speed down the streets of Chicago, get dropped from tall heights, crash in and out of buildings, and pile up on top of each other dozens of times.
The Blues Brothers is far from a perfect comedy, and can be uneven in spots, but these momentary lapses are very difficult to remember when it's all over. By the time the credits roll, you'll most likely have added many fond memories to add to your favorite movie-watching experiences. Easily one of the most entertaining films of its era, The Blues Brothers is a time capsule worthy collection, not only in irreverent comedy, but also in its reverence for some of the best music of the 1960s and 70s. It's a beautiful thing.
-- The Collector's Edition DVD features 18 minutes of additional material cut from the theatrical release.
-- Followed in 1998 by a needless, and unfunny, sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.
©2005 Vince Leo