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by: Scott Renshaw

For 18 years, THE BLUES BROTHERS has occupied a unique position as perhaps the only action-musical in film history.  The adventures of Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) on their "mission from God" somehow managed to mix production numbers and car chases into a ridiculous cocktail of over-the-top absurdity and musical showmanship.  Much of the film's unlikely success was attributed to the chemistry between Belushi and Aykroyd, but the primary responsibility of the two stars was to maintain a stoic demeanor behind their dark glasses.  No, I think THE BLUES BROTHERS worked because it really was like a mission for those involved.  Belushi, Aykroyd and director John Landis became proselytizers for soul, prepared to do absolutely anything to bring their musical message to the people.  If that meant juxtaposing the Godfather of Soul and vehicular chaos, so be it.  It was an insane film powered by the fervor of true believers.

If BLUES BROTHERS 2000 leaves a viewer feeling less than satisfied, it's not necessarily due to the absence of the late Belushi, though John Goodman does frequently seem unsure exactly what to do with himself.  The main problem is the absence of a similar focus on the music, replaced by a more cynical attempt to re-create the past.  The story is an over-plotted collection of gimmicks, sending Elwood back into the world after nearly two decades in prison to discover that brother Jake and surrogate father Curtis (Cab Calloway in the original film) have both passed on.  In a quest to re-connect with some sort of family, Elwood a) seeks out Curtis's illegitimate son Cabel (Joe Morton), an Illinois State Police commander; b) brings a meek bartender named Mack McTeer (Goodman) along to help re-unite the Blues Brothers Band; and c) hooks up with troubled orphan Buster (J. Evan Bonifant), who serves the essential purpose of looking cute in a miniature black suit, hat and shades.

I'm not suggesting that THE BLUES BROTHERS was anybody's idea of a streamlined narrative.  It had cops in pursuit, cartoonish hate-mongers, a gun-wielding psycho, switch-wielding nun Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman), Aretha Franklin singing, James Brown preaching, and carnage galore.  BLUES BROTHERS 2000, on the other hand, has...well, every one of those things, plus items a-c above.  The pointed effort to recreate every situation from the original -- recruiting the band members from new vocations, playing a gig for a crowd expecting a different musical style, etc. -- draws attention to the structure in a way which makes it feel muddled rather than original, tired, rather than inspired.  Even Aykroyd's performance draws unnecessary attention to itself, fooling with the notion that Elwood is a three-dimensional character in need of growth.  Those who remember him speaking about two dozen words in THE BLUES BROTHERS may be startled to find that prison life has turned him into a loquacious sort given to deconstructing the malevolence of Russian gangstersss or the iconography of the Brothers' distinctive look.  They may also be quite disappointed at how the loss of his deadpan reactions takes the edge off the absurdist comedy.

For all its flaws, however, there's almost enough energy in the musical numbers alone to make BLUES BROTHERS 2000 worth watching.  In addition to return players Franklin and Brown, the performers include Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd (sharing vocals with teen bluesman Jonny Lang on "634-5789"), and an all-star blues jam for the finale in which spotting the familiar faces is half the fun, and drooling over the epic collection of talent is the other half.  Between the high-spirited production numbers and one spectacular hundred-police-car pile-up -- a hilarious non-stop parade of soaring, crashing metal -- there is enough fun to satisfy most viewers, particularly if the familiarity is exactly what they're looking for.  It's too bad


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