John Landis’ ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980)

05Mar09

The Blues Brothers, born out of a musical sketch on Saturday Night Live, is two parts musical, two parts action movie, and one part comedy.

The musical parts are fantastic, original performances by R&B legends Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown, and John Lee Hooker as well as The Blues Brothers Band. 'The Blues Brothers' posterCharles, Franklin, and Calloway also get a chance to act and are pretty entertaining, especially Ray Charles as the gun-totin’, bilking music store owner.

Most of the comedy works as well because the humor is pretty low-key. Screenwriters Dan Akroyd and John Landis mostly go for chuckles instead of belly laughs though some of the gags are fairly absurd, like the Blues Brothers continually picking themselves up and walking away from explosions without ever considering that maybe someone is trying to kill them. And, of course, the “We’re on a mission from God” line has become a classic.

The action pieces consist mainly of car chases, since Elwood is made out to be something of a stunt driver and the Blues Brothers have a knack of pissing off one of group of people after another. There are some impressive car chases in this movie, one inside a shopping mall and one involving at least a dozen-car pileup in the streets of Chicago. They are intricate, destructive, and grandiose in scale.

But even though the three elements of the movie might work well on their own terms, in combination they turn into a big, silly mess. I admit that I didn’t like a lot of the action and the comedic subplot of Carrie Fisher trying to blow up Jake because I don’t like seeing a lot of destruction. My practical nature kicks in and I start thinking, “What a waste! And who’s going to clean this mess up”? The Blues Brothers follows the formula of a lot of silly 1970s comedies that I like, such as What’s Up, Doc? and Foul Play, but in comparison to those this movie is pretty long. The studio release was 2 hours, 13 minutes and there is an extended version available on DVD. For me, there just wasn’t enough plot to sustain that long a running length and I found myself getting bored. Though I admit that Jake and Elwood Blues are iconic characters, I think The Blues Brothers is something of a niche film, appealing the most to adults who witnessed the creation of The Blues Brothers on SNL and the original theater release of this film. But it’s a fun enough popcorn movie that features some wonderful performances by R&B greats.

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