Review of 'The Blues Brothers'

the_blues_brothers.jpg “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi), just released from prison is met by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) when they learn the orphanage they grew up in is to close down unless it comes up with some funds to pay off their property taxes. Jake and Elwood are left to figure out how to raise the money but there is a hitch: It has to be done legally. They come up with the idea of bringing back together the “Blues Brother Band” whose members have long since gone their separate ways. While evading the police, Aryan nation, and a seriously annoyed ex-girlfriend (played by a very young Carrie Fisher) the Blues Brothers set about on their “mission from God” and they will do whatever it takes from one car chase to another…

A classic comedy from two of the greats: John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd based on their “Blues Brothers” skits on the American “Saturday Night Live” show. These always featured music and this film is certainly not short of it with some of the biggest names in the rhythm and blues business making cameos: James Brown (as a preacher), Aretha Franklin (as the rather annoyed wife of one of the band members), Ray Charles (despite being blind, running a musical instrument shop with an uncanny ability to shoot a gun to deter would-be thieves), Cab Caloway (as the Blues Brothers MC), and Chaka Khan (as choir soloist). With such talent, as you can imagine, the music is absolutely fantastic featuring such standards as “Minni the Moucher” (performed by Cab Caloway himself), “Think” (performed by Aretha Franklin) and “Shake a Tailfeather” (Ray Charles) though the Blues Brothers themselves have some pretty incredible songs including their signature “Everybody Needs Someone to Love”, “She Caught the Katy” that opens the film and cover “Jailhouse Rock” that finishes the film. These are all performed by the characters with impressive (though perhaps completely OTT) choreography to match. There are loads of other cameos here too including comedy alumni John Candy (as a sleezy police informant), film director Steven Spielberg (as a bureaucrat)…even fashion model Twiggy makes an appearance as a witless traveller who Elwood hits on.

The plot is quite contrived but gives the film a huge amount of scope for some spectacular car chases and great humour. It never takes itself too seriously despite the two main characters never dressed in anything but black suits and shades, or expressing anything other than a straight face (seeing the two brushing off the debris of their apartment after it is blown up by a bomb simply talking about what to have for breakfast is priceless). The music is the only serious thing here and it is performed impeccably but does only start about 30 minutes into the film after a good amount of exposition. Similarly while the car chases are spectacular they are completely gratuitous and would be met with universal scorn by a modern audience (such signs of waste and wanton destruction is not so palatable today). There are of course other aspects of the film that date it such as they way women are dealt with but generally the spirit of the film is lighthearted and fun.

An amazing tour-de-force from an incredible comedic duo that we will never see the likes of again along with an incredible soundtrack and an incredible cast. Perhaps a bit dated, “The Blues Brothers” is still an iconic film and has to be one of my favourites perhaps partly because of the happy memories I have of watching it with my mother when I was quite young (despite the violence and occasional swearing).

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2020-02-16

Directed by: John Landis

Studio: Universal Pictures

Year: 1980

Length: 135 minutes

Genre: Comedy