“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”
The Blues Brothers (the band) was an interesting phenomenon. Blues music was waning in popularity and was listened to mostly by music enthusiasts. Through a mixture of great music and comedy, they brought blues music back into the mainstream for a brief moment and made it cool again. The Blues Brothers (the movie), directed by John Landis (Coming to America, Animal House) and starring Dan Akroyd and John Belushi, captures some of that magic as well as the music. Yes, it’s ridiculous and over-the-top; but the cameos and musical performances are amazingly fun and entertaining, and the comedy is pretty great too. I can’t say it’s brilliant, but I still have a blast every time I watch it. There have been movies that have tried to be The Blues Brothers, but there’s really no other movie quite like it.
The movie opens with Joliet Jake Blues being released from prison and being picked up by his brother Elwood. They return to the orphanage they grew up in and find out it’s going to be shut down unless they raise $5,000—and the orphanage won’t accept it unless they raise it legally. The brothers decide to get their old band back together to put on one big show to raise the money to save the orphanage. They have to find all their old band members and convince them to join the band again after they’ve moved on into other careers. Along the way, they piss off the police, a group of neo-Nazis, a psychotic ex-girlfriend, and a country western band, all of whom are trying to get them by the end.
We’re on a mission from God.
As a musician myself, the musical numbers were my favorite part of the film, and I loved the cameos. James Brown plays the best reverend ever, leading a church service that would put a smile on anyone’s face. Ray Charles plays a music store owner that has to haggle with the overly-cheap band over a keyboard. Aretha Franklin makes an appearance as the new wife of Matt “Guitar” Murphy, one of the original band members, who doesn’t want her husband running off with a bunch of former criminals. Most of the soundtrack is original recordings from The Blues Brothers, and the band plays a few numbers themselves throughout the movie. Also, I’m a bassist, and Duck Dunn has some of the most iconic basslines ever on this soundtrack. If you’re a music fan at all, you will find something to love.
But let’s not forget the comedy. As I said, this is over-the-top and ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous done so well that I have to appreciate it. The Blues Brothers claim to be on a mission from God, and their end goal is very noble, but the sheer amount of carnage they cause along the way is mind-boggling. I imagine most of the budget of this film went toward all the things they had to destroy to film it. Seeing a blind Ray Charles pull out a gun and shoot at a shoplifter is a hilarious moment. He also later puts up a poster to promote the big concert—upside-down, of course. I don’t want to give away anything about this plot point, but Carrie Fischer’s character is a highlight as well. And it gets even better with repeat viewings.
I’ll admit, I feel a bit funny putting this movie on the same list as Casablanca and Citizen Kane. The Blues Brothers is not brilliant by any stretch; but it’s a ton of fun, and the music aspects are done extremely well. I’ve seen it about five times, and I find I love it a little more with each new viewing. If you like irreverent comedies that still have a touch of class, this fits the bill. If you’re a musician or music enthusiast, this is essential-viewing.
Director: John Landis
Genres: adventure, comedy