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Posted on 8/17/12 07:33 PM
**** out of ****
Whenever I sit down to watch "The Blues Brothers", I envision myself putting on the black sunglasses, suit, and fedora worn by its titular brothers. That is the unmistakable power of this piece of pure entertainment that creates for it a distinctive identity. The first time you watch it, the film might appear unspectacular or disappointing depending on what you've heard. But the more times I saw it, the more I loved it; and eventually it grew on me and now I love it. If you know what you're getting - some of the best musical and car chase sequences ever filmed and a whole lotta soul - after the first round, you'll come back the second time and have a better time. I think this is how it is with a lot of great movies that have achieved a cult status. They wouldn't be anywhere if people merely saw them once; and damn those who did and still do.
Based on the SNL skit of the same name, "The Blues Brothers" is about the brothers, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) and their attempt to save the orphanage in which they grew up from being closed down. To do so, they must collect five thousand dollars to pay for the property taxes, and the only way to get the money (legally) would be to get the band back together; the Blues Brothers band. Elwood calls it a "mission from God". Problem is, after Jake was imprisoned for roughly three years (it was five, but he was released early, as we learn in the opening scene, for good behavior), the band split up, and many of its members sought work and life elsewhere; such as Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn, Murphy Dunne, Willie Hall, Tom Malone, Lou Marini, Matt Murphy, and Alan Rubin.
The first half or so is about the exploits along the way to reuniting the band, with the second half dividing its time between gigs, run-ins with neo-Nazi political parties and the law, and once they brothers have raised enough money, getting it into the orphanage's bank account. It's big, messy, one can even say bloated; and it's also a shit-load of fun. In a big way, the musical numbers carry the film most of the way to its all-too-predictable destination. I'll admit that the reason why I go back to watch the film so many times is because of the music alone, and then I just get sucked in all-together. Who can forget Cab Calloway going up on-stage and singing Minnie the Moocher? Or James Brown, in an earlier scene, performing as the reverend of the church in which Elwood and Jake get inspired to revive the band ("Can you see the light?!")?
Truth be told, there are so many great scenes in this film. And movies with an abundance of great - not merely good - scenes are the ones that are perhaps remembered the most. If I were a film critic, "The Blues Brothers" would probably score three stars out of four. I'm giving it full marks because I'm not a critic, and I don't go by those rules; I go by what entertains me, and I honestly see something special in the film. It flawlessly rides the waves of buddy comedy, chase thriller, and musical without fault. A Hollywood production, it's got a lot of fancy special effects; but with John Landis as the director, nothing goes to waste and nothing feels gimmicky (at least not on purpose). The film is often cheesy and it's aware of it; but cheesy might not quite be its brand of humor, at least not consistently.
I say this because for the most parts, the dialogue between the brothers has a more deadpan style to it. Sure, there are a few great screwball comedy scenes - like that one in the restaurant - but I feel the best jokes are generated from the dry sensibilities that the actors bring with them. Belushi and Aykroyd are an impenetrable comic duo; their relationship, as guys pretentious enough to wear black sunglasses and fedoras throughout the film (and let's not forget those suits, my God), is both funny and touching; which is what made the SNL skits such a hit. Then there's the over-the-top bits; like a plot element that concerns an angry ex-fiancé of Jake (Carrie Fisher) trying to kill him with flamethrowers and rocket launchers, and then we're back to the chase sequences (that mall one in particular is great).
But again, the music is what drives this film. It's what allows it to speak to me, not only as entertainment, but as art. I love "The Blues Brothers", so very much. It's a classic in its own right. The soundtrack is classic, the quotes are classic ("It's a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses"), and somehow so is the plot (which is more clever in its execution than its material). With Belushi's passing, the film has even more significance now. It's one of his finest achievements as an actor and proves that he's more than just the Bluto that we know and love. For the inspired direction by Landis, the top notch performances, the wild musical cameos (look out for Ray Charles in a splendid scene), and the over-the-top entertainment of it all; I'd advise you to go on this mission from God ASAP.