Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
Next on the list of movies I've deemed important, and am forcing my teenage son to watch… 1980's 'The Blues Brothers'.  One of the reasons I am so intimately familiar with this film is because sometime in the early 80's our family finally got cable TV, and along with that cable TV we got HBO.  Heck yes.  And remember this is old HBO we're talking about, not today's HBO and Showtime which has all kinds of shows and specials and documentaries to fill out their schedule.  No sir, Old HBO basically showed movies.  And there were only so many movies to show.  Thus The Blues Brothers and Urban Cowboy must've shown six times a day, and damn if I didn't watch those movies almost every time they came on.  I can literally recite all the dialog to both 'The Blues Brothers' and 'Urban Cowboy'.  Just so you know, 'Urban Cowboy' is not on that list of important movies my son must see.  Sorry John Travolta.  How does 'The Blues Brothers' hold up thirty years later?  Uh…

Joliet Jake (the late John Belushi) has just gotten out of, well, Joliet prison I think and is picked up by his brother Elwood (Vodka tycoon Dan Aykroyd).  But back at the orphanage where the boys were raised, Sister Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) has informed them that the institution is about to close unless they can raise the prerequisite five thousand dollars to keep it open.  That 2.1 million in 2013 dollars.  I've done the math.  If they needed five thousand dollars today, I could seriously scrape that up, by myself, without destroying most of Chicago.

What are the Blues Brothers to do?  Fortunately, God has spoken to them, through Pastor Reverend James Brown, and has told them that they need to get the band back together.  Easier said than done because the band has all gone their separate ways, but fortunately
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none of them saw fit to leave Chicago, but they don't really trust the Blues Brothers all that much.  Particularly Jake.  Hey… time for the first scene of car crashes!  At this point I inform my son that at the time The Blues Brothers was one of the most expensive movies ever made.  He was privileged to see evidence of this as Jake and Elwood completely wreck a shopping mall.  CGI wasn't invented yet so that was real live, authentic property destruction that director John Landis got to orchestrate.

When Jake and Elwood aren't directly destroying property, there is mystery woman (Carrie Fisher) with a rocket launcher also destroying property.  This time they collapsed a building.  But back to the business at hand… getting the band back together.  Jake manages to con the band into to joining him and Elwood in their 'Mission from God', while running into legends such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, and Cab Calloway just to name a few.  Also while making many enemies along the way such as Illinois Nazi's, the Good Old Boys, their parole officer (John Candy) and every single law enforcement official in the state of Illinois.  But they are on a Mission from God.  And if there's as an ending sequence car chase scene longer than the one in 'The Blues Brothers'… I don't want to see it.

So my son had a problem with 'The Blues Brothers'.  He made mention that Jake and Elwood, particularly Jake, are essentially terrible people.  They steal, they lie, they cheat, they wantonly cause destruction of public property and they don't seem to have lot of respect for anybody around them.  Even themselves.  'And we're supposed to be rooting for these guys?' he would ask.  Hmmm… that's a solid point young man.  I totally missed that the first 48 times I saw this movie on HBO back in the 80's.  He was also disturbed that there were 800 car crashes and nobody died in this movie.  Except maybe the Illinois Nazis.  That was an easy one to explain as the A-Team factor was in full effect.  He didn't understand the concept.  Ah… who cares what that punk thinks.

What I do know is that when Aretha and the girls broke down with 'Think' to Guitar Murphy Dunne, I cried.  There is no substitute for that kind of artistry.  And after Ray Charles rocked the Fender Rhodes with 'Shake a Tailfeather' I told the boy that he could actually stop watching the movie now as two of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema are now complete.  We did keep watching because nobody really wants to miss the Blues Brothers rendition of Rawhide and we definitely wanted to catch a 178 year Cab Calloway rip 'Minnie the Moocher' to shreds… but this is what I remember about 'The Blues Brothers'.  The music.  Best musical performances in a movie ever?  That would be up for debate, but 'The Blues Brothers', I believe, is at least in the conversation.

The movie itself?  Well… we do have a soft spot for it, but the truth of the matter is that it's really a string of disconnected nonsense the ends in car crashes.  John Landis might've been a little overrated as a film director as he was able to ride the fumes of 'Animal House' to a very lengthy career.  Even movies Mr. Landis made that are recognized classics say like 'Coming to America' or an 'America Werewolf in London' suffer under modern scrutiny.  'The Blues Brothers' as well because as a movie… that being a story that has a logical narrative and a coherent plot… that's not this movie.  And it probably runs about twenty minutes too long.  Think you could edit twenty minutes worth crashing cars out this movie?  I think you could.

Revisiting it twenty years later… Maybe some of the love is gone. But the music of 'The Blues Brothers' will live forever.  And that's the most important part of this movie, if one were to ask me.
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