Published Jul 18, 2013A manic blockbuster that veers intermittently from comedy to action to musical, John Landis's The Blues Brothers is rewarding precisely because it teeters on the brink of flying off the rails at any moment. It's this anarchic everything-but-kitchen-sink approach that has allowed its legacy to endure in spite of the death of John Belushi, a disappointing sequel in Blues Brothers 2000 and Dan Aykroyd's insistence in carrying on the act to increasingly diminished returns.
The Blues Brothers, Elwood (Aykroyd) and Jake (Belushi), are "on a mission from God." More specifically, Jake has just been released from prison and the duo is burdened with raising the five thousand dollars needed to pay off the back taxes for a Chicago orphanage. Inspired by an electric performance by James Brown from the pulpit of a church and Jake's own heavenly vision, they come up with the idea of reuniting their band to play a lucrative gig. That is, if they could find a way to actually book one.
While traveling around in their seemingly indestructible Bluesmobile to convince each member to abandon whatever they are doing and join the convoy, they manage to run afoul of, among others, the police, a group of Nazis, a country band and a mysterious woman played by Carrie Fisher. Of course, there is still always time along the way for a rousing musical number from the likes of blues legends Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and Aretha Franklin.
Amidst all of the chaos, the Blues Brothers remain the very picture of cool. Aside from their demonstrated talent for belting out impassioned numbers on stage, they also manage invariably to cheat death while barreling heedlessly into danger. The reason the characters likely still resonate with many is that they tap into a devil-may-care streak that resides within everyone.
The movie is pretty much wall-to-wall R & B and soul music, whether it's heard in a live performance or simply the accompaniment to one of the car chases that frequently arise. "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Think" are just a couple of welcome additions to the soundtrack, along with a particularly memorable rendition of the theme from the TV western series Rawhide.
The lone gripe about the film is that, much like Steven Spielberg (who makes a cameo) and his own Belushi comedy 1941, there is the curious presumption that crashing cars and wanton destruction are somehow especially funny. Though Aykroyd and Belushi's supreme indifference to everything crashing down around them can be amusing enough, the expensive stunts and pyrotechnics really only add to the sheer spectacle of this rollicking extravaganza.
The Blues Brothers screens as part of the TOGA! The Reinvention of the American Comedy retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on July 20th, 2013 at 8pm and will be introduced by the director, John Landis. (Universal)