Blues Brothers 2000, The (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

They're back, and this time they're not on a mission from God. Strictly speaking, however, only one of the original Blues Brothers has returned -- Dan Aykroyd's Elwood. His partner, Jake (played by the late John Belushi), died in prison, so now it's up to the survivor to find a new lead singer, re-form the group, hit the road, run from the police, and end up in a band competition to end all band competitions. Any similarities between the sequel and its classic inspiration are entirely intentional. In fact, in many ways, Blues Brothers 2000 is as much a remake as it is a follow-up. The familiar elements are certainly all there.

The difference between the two Blues Brothers movies can be summed up simply: the original 1980 release worked as a musical and a comedy; the 1998 installment functions as a musical masquerading as a comedy. That is to say, the songs are still great fun, but the level of humor has dropped off considerably. Blues Brothers 2000 is rarely funny. Fortunately, after a rather tedious first half-hour, the music kicks into high gear, and that gives the film enough energy to bulldoze over its numerous shortcomings. Blues Brothers 2000 isn't anywhere close to the landmark its predecessor was, but it's still enjoyable.

Blues Brothers 2000 appears to have set out with two primary objectives: re-create the feel of the first movie and crash even more cars. The colossal smash-up sequence in Blues Brothers 2000 not only tops anything in the original, but it garners the picture's biggest laughs. It's an amazing piece of over-the-top entertainment, and proves that director John Landis (who also helmed The Blues Brothers) is still capable of creating a cinematic moment with an edge.

This time around, there are four men in black. Aykroyd plays Elwood much the same as he did eighteen years ago. In fact, with the hat, suit, and sunglasses covering up the most obvious signs of aging, it's hard to believe that so much time has passed. Taking over for John Belushi is John Goodman as the surprisingly timid Mighty Mack. Initially, this role was earmarked for Jim Belushi, but scheduling conflicts prevented him from appearing. Joe Morton joins the group as a cop who undergoes a conversion to the blues. Then there's ten-year old Buster (played by J. Evan Bonifant), who specializes in stealing scenes.

If the tag line in the original was "We're on a mission from God," this time it's "The Lord works in mysterious ways." Many members of the supporting cast have returned, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Kathleen Freeman (as Sister Mary Stigmata), Frank Oz, Steve Lawrence, and the members of the band. As expected, there's a powerful lineup of guest performers. The roster numbers about two dozen, half of whom appear as members of the Louisiana Gator Boys, the band that challenges the Blues Brothers during the film's goosepimple-generating musical finale. Familiar faces (and voices) include Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Erykah Badu, Lou Rawls, Travis Tritt, Jonny Lang, Grover Washington Jr., Steve Winwood, Wilson Pickett, and Junior Wells. (Apologies to those I have forgotten -- and there are a lot.) Playing everything from familiar standards to new songs, Blues Brothers 2000 has something for viewers of almost any musical persuasion (standout numbers include "How Blue Can You Get" and "New Orleans"). On more than one occasion, it's hard to keep from at least tapping a foot.

Blues Brothers 2000 is the kind of movie that needs to be seen with an audience to be fully appreciated. Almost like a live concert, the energy of the viewers adds to the atmosphere. The experience wouldn't be nearly the same alone, at home, on video. The film also has the good sense to build to something, leaving the dullest, least-invigorating elements for the first two reels. By the time the end credits arrive, the production is on a roll. And it's nice to see film makers come up with a way to keep most members of the audience in their seats until the house lights go on. In the final analysis, despite the cries of "sacrilege" by some Blues Brothers and Saturday Night Live (where the Belushi/Aykroyd act started) die-hards, Blues Brothers 2000 represents a respectable follow-up to a uniquely American classic.

Blues Brothers 2000, The (United States, 1998)

Director: John Landis
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Nia Peeples, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King
Screenplay: Dan Aykroyd and John Landis
Cinematography: David Herrington
Music: Paul Shaffer
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 2:05
U.S. Release Date: 1998-02-06
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1