Regardless of whether or not I like the movie, The Blues Brothers has something serious to answer for. This is probably the film that convinced movie producers that sketch characters from Saturday Night Live could be successfully translated into movies. Therefore “Joliet” Jake and Elwood have to shoulder part of the blame for travesties like A Night at the Roxbury and It’s Pat.
The problem is that the Blues Brothers weren’t sketch characters. They didn’t have a catch phrase and their only “schtick” was a genuine respect for the music that they covered. This gave screenwriters Dan Aykroyd and John Landis the freedom to craft an actual story around the characters. If the story is a little too slight to support two hours and thirteen minutes of running time, that doesn’t matter too much. Like their Blues Brothers appearances on SNL, this movie is mostly about the music.
It’s really a toss up whether this movie is a musical punctuated by car wrecks or one long car chase broken up with some smokin’ musical numbers. The plot is pretty simple. “Joliet” Jake Blues (John Belushi) gets out of prison and he and his brother, Elwood (Aykroyd) learn that the orphanage where they grew up needs five grand to pay the tax assessment on the building. A divine inspiration leads Jake to reassemble their band and play a gig to raise the money. Along the way, they manage to piss off a chapter of the Illinois Nazi Party, a gun-toting country-western band and the entire law-enforcement community of Illinois (and probably parts of Indiana and Michigan, too). A mystery woman (Carrie Fisher) is also stalking Jake with an arsenal that would make Rambo weep.
The story, of course, is largely beside the point. It merely acts as a vehicle to get the movie from one rhythm and blues or soul number to the next. The real enjoyment comes from seeing musical legends like James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway singing the kinds of songs you’d probably have to pay more than the price of movie ticket to hear them sing. Of course, you also get a handful of numbers by the titular brothers and, given the level of musical talent on screen, they acquit themselves admirably enough. Belushi and Aykroyd weren’t just clowning around when in came to music and that respect comes out here, evidenced I think by the fact they brought along almost the entire band from SNL, including Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Lou Marini and Matt Murphy, and gave them speaking roles in the film.
Even though the music is the real reason to see this movie, don’t think that it’s not funny, too. It may be too long and gloriously excessive in the sheer scale of the carnage, but the way the brothers manage to non-chalantly leave a trail of destruction behind them is good for some genuine laughs. John Candy is also good as an irrepressibly cheerful parole officer.
A bit of a sidebar: the 25th Anniversary DVD of this movie comes on what’s called a DVD-18. That’s another way of saying it’s a dual-layer, double-sided disc. Universal has had serious quality control issues with these discs in the past, yet they continue to release them and refuse to acknowledge the prior problems. This title was no exception. The picture froze several times during the final car chase. Universal needs to pull its head out of its ass, stick a crowbar in its wallet and ditch the DVD-18s.