This sequel to The Blues Brothers (1980) economically nails its distinctive elements within the first few minutes.
Mock seriousness: dramatic angles on the jail where Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) has spent his life since his previous score of misdemeanours. Genuflection to black culture: on the soundtrack, the unaccompanied voice of Taj Mahal chants the mournful lyrics of "John the Revelator". Dumb humour: Elwood takes up a position outside the jail, waiting for a lift – and he stands there, cool and ridiculous, for an entire day and night.
Both director John Landis and star Aykroyd needed a serious comeback success at this stage in their careers. Their script for this sequel plays it safe all the way down the line, delivering to Blues Brothers cultists every last gag, cameo and nostalgic gesture they could possibly crave. The plot is almost nothing – a bunch of men in black on their way to a music competition – and merely allows the requisite string of show-stopping set-pieces.
Yet, for all its inanity and predictability, why is Blues Brothers 2000 so damnably infectious and enjoyable?
Although Aretha Franklin gets to belt out a stirring new arrangement of "Respect", the world of the Blues Brothers films and the fantasy they offer are unmistakeably male. However, this is a comparatively gentle male fantasy: no real violence, no bloodshed, minimal bad language, only minor scapegoating of a few paper tigers (ex-Soviet operatives and crazed right-wingers).
Beyond some cartoonish moments of reckless driving, a healthy disrespect for the law and a spectacular, unreal pile-up in which cars fly in mid-air like the high-divers in Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1938), Blues Brothers 2000 is a boyish, harmless, rather endearing entertainment aimed squarely at the dags of this world.
Just as contact sports allow a little covert, male bonding among guys, the principal pleasure of the Blues Brothers movies is surely this: they proudly show men playing dress-ups, singing and (above all) dancing with each other. Although the cult around these films stresses the cool aura of the heroes, their somewhat stiff, mechanical dance moves say it all – they are unfunky dags just dying to rub shoulders with their infinitely more relaxed and soulful black brothers.
Blues Brothers 2000 is in many respects a pale re-run of the original. Its build-up is slow, the getting-the-band-back-together business takes forever, and too many jokes are simply lifted from the previous film.
However, once the music begins in earnest, so do all the merry transformations – from dag to cool, uptight to ecstatic, human to animal and even white to black – and the party truly comes alive.
Be sure to follow the final, wonderful song right through the credits – or you'll miss the priceless James Brown coda.
MORE Landis: Innocent Blood
© Adrian Martin April 1998