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When the original Blues Brothers film made it to the big screen, it had one of the biggest budgets in cinema history and there was certainly a degree of trepidation on the studio's part as to how well a £30m film based upon two characters from an American entertainment show was going to travel abroad. Though it was a slow-burn in terms of box-office, the film gained the kind of cult following, with certain lines of dialogue making it into common parlance (the phrase “getting the band back together” being a prime example) – there was certainly a growing interest in a sequel, but one niggling issue was hard to circumnavigate…

Another Blues Brothers film, another advert for Ray-Ban...

The death of John Belushi just two years after the release of The Blues Brothers posed a serious problem for creator Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis to work around; Belushi’s undeniable comedic brilliance, coupled with his distinctive singing voice meant that he was going to be tough to replace. Belushi’s brother Jim had been performing with Aykroyd at the latter’s House of Blues establishment and on tour in the US, and it looked as though a Belushi was going to starring in a sequel after all. Sadly, Belushi’s chance to play Zee Blues on the big screen was dashed when TV network ABC refused to release him from a television series to be in the film, so heavyweight John Goodman was hastily drafted in as Mighty Mack, the rest of the surviving cast were reassembled and Blues Brothers 2000 went into production.

Blues Brothers 2000 opens with Elwood Blues (Aykroyd) being released from prison (presumably from the hefty sentence he received after the antics in the first film), only to be informed that his brother Jake is dead and that his old friend and mentor Curtis (Cab Calloway) has joined Jake in the bluesy hereafter. Now without family, Elwood is informed that Curtis had a son (Joe Morton) and sets out to track him down,  reform the Blues Brothers band with the help of slightly reluctant barman Mack McTeer (John Goodman) whilst look after a young orphan, battle Russian gangsters, avoid the police, cause the biggest car pile-up ever committed to film and take part in a climactic Battle of the Bands.

There is no way of putting it nicely, so we will just be blunt - Blues Brothers 2000 is a fucking mess. A BIG fucking mess. A seriously honking, whopping-great mess that doesn’t seem to want to let logic or much in the way of a compelling story stand in the way of some wonderful music numbers.

Aykroyd is fine as Elwood (allegedly losing the best part of 100lbs to reprise the part), but seems a little smoother than the slightly awkward character he was in the first film and Goodman is enjoyable enough, happy to play second-fiddle to the creator of The Blues Brothers, bringing in an appealing degree of nervous energy to large, imposing frame of Mighty Mack.

Another Blues Brothers film, another venturing into a redneck music venue...

Though most of the surviving cast make appearances to varying degrees, it’s not necessarily a good thing, as the film becomes a merely a game of 'spot-how-old-the-original-cast-member-looks', or 'how-bad-a-performance-the-non-actors-in-the-band-can-deliver'. The band members got away with it in the first film, but some of their line delivery in this one are just painful. The vocations of the band members are pretty ridiculous this time around: in the first film, there was a certain irony that the rhythm section of a great blues band would end up as a cheesy lounge band attempting to entertain bored hotel patrons - here, one of them is a funeral director, one is a car-salesman and two of them come across as the least convincing talk-radio presenters ever to grace the airwaves.  

The theme of redemption is hammered home more blatantly than the original film; the inclusion of J. Evan Bonifant as Buster is one of the film’s main - ahem - bum notes, as it just smacks of a middle-aged man wanting to stress the importance of family, whereas the original Blues Brothers just used the redemption theme as a vehicle for mayhem, rather than as a blunt instrument to hammer a message home to an audience who didn’t want to be preached at during the film. It apparently wasn't Aykroyd's choice to have Buster in the film - it was forced upon him. Bonifant isn’t a BAD actor, it’s just that he is unnecessary baggage in a film that was already trying to cram in appearances from virtually everyone from the previous instalment. Oh, and he also is a hindrance when it comes to participating in the musical numbers, as the blues isn’t a musical style that children naturally gravitate toward, as it comes from life experiences, including love, bitterness and rejection.

Where the film excels is in the musical numbers, which - if you choose to believe Aykroyd and Landis - were apparently chosen as possible numbers to perform by Aykroyd and John Belushi back in the day. Though Belushi’s distinctive tones are sorely missed, the black hole attempts to be plugged by sheer numbers of others providing vocals for the songs in the film; Goodman provides light gravel, Morton provides smooth soul and Bonifant is a kid. Aykroyd gets to be front-and-centre during one of the film’s most exhilarating scenes, with the original Blues Brother singing the country and western standard, Riders in the Sky, proving that you don’t need to have a great vocal range in order to belt out something entertaining. There are a couple of duff numbers, however; Funky Nassau by Erykah Badhu is just ghastly and the reappearance of Aretha Franklin is trite in the extreme along with the choice of song (Respect) being a lazy one and the weird vocalisations she includes make it one scene that would have ordinarily hit the cutting-room floor if it had been any other artist. Even part of James Brown’s musical contribution was shunted to after the end credits in what must have been a battle between pacing and a contractual obligation to have Brown’s singing in the film.

Another Blues Brothers film, another religious conversion...

There is an astonishingly impressive roster of appearances from some of the biggest names in blues and soul in the film, which helps give it a little more credibility that it would have had otherwise - a small sample of the talent on display includes Dr John, Bo Diddley, BB King, Wilson Pickett, Eric Clapton, Isaac Hayes and Erykah Badhu, with many of them appearing in the super-group at the end of the film, which surely has to be one of the most jaw-dropping line-ups in super-group history. Also included is an appearance from Paul Shaffer, who was a member of the original Blues Brothers Band back in the Saturday Night Live era, but wasn’t in the film due to prior contractual obligations, so it’s nice to see him in the film and not having to prop up weak gags from David Letterman. If we were to criticise this element, it’s that there is truly an embarrassment of riches here, with the 21-strong super-group all seemingly fighting to be heard; where the genius of the blues lies in it’s simplicity, there are times when you just want to hear all of them individually - the horn section in particular seem to be vying amongst each other to win the coveted prize of being heard.

Also in an attempt to paper over the missing elements that were present in the first film was a deliberate attempt to show the biggest car pile-up ever committed to celluloid; there is one scene that just seems to go on endlessly, as police car after police car plough into each other and instead of mounting excitement, boredom soon begins to set; it wouldn’t have surprised us if audiences didn’t stare down at their chronometers during the scene and exclaim “it broke my watch!”

Another Blues Brothers film, another police car pile-up.

Landis’ sequel seems to suffer from a distinct lack of personal identity; it was the little (blues) brother that had a wunderkind elder sibling and the weight of expectation was too much to bear. The film matches the plot-points of the original - along with the comfort blanket of having appearances from almost everyone from the first one, no matter HOW contrived - and also relies upon little throwaway reference to the first film (weaving musical cues from Everybody Needs Somebody into an entirely different song makes no sense whatsoever, other than to get some fans slightly excited). If this film had tried to do something different, but still had it about Elwood Blues and the kind of music fans know and love, then Blues Brothers 2000 might have had a chance.

The rehashing of elements from the first film also includes extremist adversaries to dog the Blues Brothers; the first film gave us the wonderfully memorable Henry Gibson whose quiet menace as the head of a bunch of Illinois Nazis threatened to steal the film from under the noses of Aykroyd and Belushi. Blues Brothers 2000 presents the audience with a bunch of fairly non-descript Russian gangsters and make precious little mark and allow Aykroyd to breathe a sigh of relief in that he wasn’t going to have the film stolen from him by them. The DVD release of Blues Brothers 2000 had the chapter-stop that introduces the Eastern European adversaries entitled “this time it’s Russians” and this pretty-much embodies the uninspired, change-the-variables approach to the screenplay.

Where the first film was a little hesitant at the box-office to start with, but picked up and eventually turned a profit, which kept making money for Universal, Blues Brothers 2000 had a budget of $28m, which, allowing for inflation over a quarter of a century, was proportionately smaller than that of the original. The sequel limped out in the cinematic dumping-ground that is February and only recouped half it’s production budget at the box-office.

Another Blues Brothers film... oh, don't even fucking ask.

Video


Fabulous Films brings you Blues Brothers 2000 on Blu-ray, but the bad news is that - much like many of Universal’s back-catalogue titles, the resulting transfer is problematic. The colours are rich and vivid, with the colourful production design being faithfully served here, but where the transfer REALLY falls down is the hideous amount of edge enhancement that is visible throughout; an older master was obviously used, quite possibly an early hi-def master that had edge enhancement added to make it suitable for DVD (and possibly even VHS). It’s a real bummer, as it had the potential to look amazing, but sadly, it’s almost a throwback to the early days of DVD.

Audio


The sonic dexterity heard here almost makes up for the sub-par video transfer, as the film is given a lossless DTS HD-MA 5.1 track that gives the wonderful (and even the not-so wonderful) music a great deal of punch that - during some of the concert  numbers - almost makes you feel as though you are listening to it live. Outside of the music, there are plenty of discrete surround effects to enhance the numerous car crashes and general acts of wanton destruction.

Extras


The Making of Blues Brothers 2000: this 27 minute documentary was originally found on the DVD release and is a reasonably fun look at the production of the film, featuring interviews with many of the cast and crew and copious use of b-roll footage. If anything, it goes to show that their hearts were in the right place, even if the final result was probably something that everyone was not entirely happy with.

Trailer: The trailer for Blues Brothers 2000 made the following rather bold claim: “It’s not the hats. It’s not the suits. It’s not the glasses. It’s the music.” This is only partially true; one could argue that “It’s John Belushi”, but there were a number of elements that made the original Blues Brothers so enjoyable, the only key elements missing for the sequel were the leading man and an enjoyable script. Still, the trailer presents a tantalising glimpse of what might have been, but also a warning to Blues Brothers fans of what cartoonish whackiness was to come…

A mass chorus of "I wanna be the loudest!"

Overall


The Louisiana setting during the final act of Blues Brothers 2000 is somewhat apt, as the film itself is a veritable gumbo of musical talents and overcooked ideas, with the addition of being cinematically heavy on the bay-leaves, which leaves something of an unpleasant aftertaste. Then again, you might actually just want to switch off your brain and enjoy the film as an extended music video.

Fabulous Films manages to score over previous releases by including a couple of bonus features, which helps - a little - to overlook the fact that a sub-par transfer has been used for this release, though it’s probably the same as every other release of the film around the world. Caveat emptor.

We will leave you with our original advice we gave to people after we first watched the film 20 years ago - “if you can make it past the first hour, you’ll end up watching the whole thing”.


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