Monday, January 16, 2012

Let's Watch Dan Aykroyd Sodomize The Corpse of John Belushi



I can hardly think of a movie that holds a more sacred place in my heart than the first R-rated movie I ever saw: The Blues Brothers, which I caught on HBO when I was 10 or so. This movie had everything: car chases, great music, silly comedy, subtle comedy, about 267 endlessly quotable lines, and above all, attitude.

(Incidentally: why was The Blues Brothers rated R? There's no sex, no nudity, no [on camera] drug use, no violence, and not even that much profanity. I saw much racier material on NBC's execrable Whitney/Are You There, Chelsea? comedy block during the 8pm "family hour" last week.)

I don't mean to say that The Blues Brothers is my favorite movie ever (though it is probably in the top ten), and it certainly isn't anywhere near the "best." But it is a perfect document of the time it was made (1980) by two comedians at the top of their game (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), and effortlessly straddles the worlds of comedy and music, while resuscitating a genre that had gone way out of style in the era of disco, punk, and new wave, as well as the careers of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and all the other music legends that appear in the movie.

As silly as it sometimes gets, the movie never forgets that its two main characters are quiet, calm, and cool at all times, and lets all its comedy flow from that. It is also the rare film about musicians that seems to know what it's talking about, and speaks that language fluently without explaining anything to the audience, letting the jazzbos in the audience get the in-jokes and leaving everyone else to figure it out. It understands that the life of an unfamous musician is far from glamorous, that it's dirty and dingy and frequently humiliating, but it's all worth it when you get in front of the right audience.

Every time I watch this movie, I notice something new, some little aside by one of the members of the band or one of the music legends brought in to cameo, and I fall in love with it all over again. I would also have to give a tip of the hat to John Belushi for demonstrating that a white guy that can't really sing can stand in front of a killer funk band if he really, really wants to -- that revelation has brought me quite a bit of happiness in my adult life.

In light of all that, it's probably not hard to understand why I have never even considered watching the ill-conceived sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 (released two years early in 1998). This movie looks terrible in every last way that something can be terrible. First, most obvious and most importantly, the comic engine of the entire enterprise, John Belushi, had been dead for 16 years. That alone should have been enough to scuttle the idea faster than Aykroyd could finish his elevator pitch. But Blues Brothers 2000 tries to compensate by replacing Belushi with John Goodman (the only way for Aykroyd to keep his status as "the skinny one"), plus the black scientist from Terminator 2, plus a 10-year-old kid, all of whom -- you guessed it! -- wear the black suit, hat, and Ray-Bans! Isn't that funny? Because four Blues Brothers is twice as funny as two, especially if one of them is (giggle) a little kid!

This poster alone positively screams big-budget, lowest-common-denominator filmmaking by committee, exploiting a beloved, known property and turning it into a market-tested, family-friendly monstrosity of the worst kind, and I have avoided the movie like the plague for the entire 14 years since it was released.

I would never watch Blues Brothers 2000 in a million years. I would not watch it if it were the last movie on Earth. If my choices were watching Blues Brothers 2000 or watching 2000 messy cattle births in IMAX, I would watch the cattle births.

But I happen to be short on blog ideas this week, so what do you say we take a look at it?

0:29 -- First title card: "For John Belushi, John Candy, Cab Calloway." I have a feeling I'll be sorry you reminded me none of them are in this movie.

1:30 -- Next title card: "18 years later." This movie was released in 1998 and it's set in 1998, so why wasn't it called Blues Brothers 98? Blues Brothers 2000 gives it a weird, futuristic feel that suggests science fiction or something, which is the exact last thing you want to combine with soul music. At least Blues Brothers 98 kind of sounds like a specialty line of Oldsmobiles.

2:30 -- Elwood, fresh out of prison, waits at the road, but alas, there is no Jake and no Bluesmobile to pick him up. (Aykroyd looks like he ate them both.) Cars blow by him! The visual of Elwood disappearing in a cloud of car exhaust is so funny, we get to see it twice! He waits all night and into the morning. He doesn't even sit down. Wait, does he not know his brother is dead? Is this musical comedy romp going to begin with a released prisoner processing the news that his brother, partner, and only friend is dead?

4:00 -- Frank Oz, who played the prison guard who let Jake out at the beginning of the first one, is now the warden, and goes out to tell Elwood the news. The moment is shot in such a way that we don't hear the warden say it, which begs the question, why have this moment at all? It's a bummer. But not for long, because Elwood's paralyzing grief is cut short by the arrival of a pretty lady in a red convertible. Glad we got that out of the way!

5:05 -- Smash cut to Chicago.  The pretty lady was sent by Willie Hall, the drummer from the first movie, and she tells Elwood -- exaggerating his Chicago accent to the point of parody, which he didn't do at all in the first movie -- to go see Willie, who will give Elwood a job at his club that employs pretty ladies apparently. Instead, Elwood's first stop is at a car lot, where he tries to buy another broke-down police car from B.B. King (breaking the landspeed record for quickest cameo in a movie). Aykroyd has already smiled more than he did in the whole first movie, and nothing funny has happened yet.

6:30 -- Elwood sits down with the Nun that beat him and Jake with a stick for swearing in her church in the first one. I wonder if the exact same thing will happen again?

7:15 -- Apparently not. Just downer talk about Jake and Curtis (Cab Calloway's character from the first movie) being dead. This movie is a total bummer so far but Aykroyd has had a quarter-smile on his face in almost every shot. And he really needs to ease up on the accent.

7:30 -- Whoops, spoke too soon. Elwood took the Lord's name in vain and now the Penguin is beating on him with a telescoping antenna. Maybe this movie is going to have a sci-fi element after all.

9:30 -- In the world's longest, unfunniest conversation, Elwood is told that Curtis has an illegitimate son, and Elwood decides this is the closest thing he has to family. This scene is dreadfully disjointed -- it feels like Elwood and the Penguin are conducting an interview over satellite delay. Let's don't forget that the once-great comedy director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Coming To America) was at the helm here, and he and Aykroyd wrote the script. That's right, not ten minutes in, I'm assigning blame.

11:00 -- The Penguin decides that Elwood, a lifelong recidivist not a day out of prison after 18 years in, is a good candidate to play big brother to a tough little kid named -- wait for it -- Buster. Buster! Elwood agrees to take Buster -- an annoying screen presence from moment one -- to the library.

12:20 -- Elwood tells Buster, "Stay away from drugs, guns, and cyberpornography on the Internet and you can be President of the United States." What does Elwood know about "cyberpornography" (a term I've never heard anyone say ever)? He's been in prison since 1980.

13:50 -- The movie oddly skips an opportunity to show a photo of Belushi, after it has already shown a photo of Cab Calloway, as it turns out that the long-lost not-brother is a State Police Commander (remember? Jake and Elwood had that big chase with the State Police in the first movie?). This scene also has a leaden joke where the Commander asks Elwood to remove his hat and glasses in his office:



This shot is held on for like five seconds, just to make sure you get how funny it is.

15:35 -- So now we are watching a man process the information that the man who raised him is not his father, that his mother strayed with a traveling musician and kept the truth from him for 40 years. And Dan Aykroyd is still smiling!

16:00: Elwood asks the Police Commander to join his band, and Commander replies, quite sensibly if a bit angrily, that he's not interested. Elwood stands up and says in the hammiest manner possible, severing any connection to the spirit of the original as well as whatever audience goodwill this thing was trading on, "I think you need a hug." This is the moment I officially get mad at this movie.

17:30 -- Buster reappears, having picked the Commander's pocket, which yields $500 cash, enough to buy the police car from B.B. King. Remember the police car in the first movie? That was great, right?

19:20 -- Elwood throws the cigarette lighter out the window when the kid tries to light up. Remember? Like in the first one? Also, whereas the first movie's score was largely old soul hits -- a "Best of Sam and Dave" 8-track was always on in the Bluesmobile -- the score here is recently recorded blues music, which always sounds a little off no matter what.



20:10 -- Elwood takes Buster into a strip club, and is then shocked and horrified on Buster's behalf to see women in bikinis populating the stage (this movie is PG-13). Elwood, it seems, got a lot dumber when he was in prison.

20:45 -- Look! It's John Goodman as the bartender! How long till he's also dressed like a Hasidic diamond merchant? (Well look, if this movie is going to recycle jokes from the first one, I'm giving myself permission to do the same.)

21:00 -- What will surely be an interminable string of scenes where Elwood tries to talk band members into coming back begins with the drummer, Willie Hall, now operating a strip bar where the women don't strip and wearing purple African garb. In the first movie, they all resisted because Jake owed them money. This time, they're resistant because Jake and Elwood got them convicted, but they're all inexplicable easier to persuade. Elwood makes his pitch about the rush of making people dance, and -- you won't believe this -- Buster seems to be moved by it.

21:35 -- How random is this: Nia Peeples (from The Party Machine with Nia Peeples, remember that show, where Nia Peeples was attractive and danced to bad late-80s dance music?) is one of the State cops. Or maybe she'll sing and dance later? Get a big solo? Should that come to pass, it would say pretty much all anyone would ever need to know about Blues Brothers 2000. She gives the Commander his recovered wallet, which includes a note of thanks from Elwood for the "loan," prompting an A.P.B. on one Elwood Blues. What! The cops are already looking for Elwood? Get outta here!

22:00 -- The first musical number of the movie begins with Elwood onstage at the strip club with the house band, still smiling as he introduces the dancers. Elwood: STOP SMILING. I know that Dan Aykroyd understands that the deadpan disposition he and Belushi adopted in the first one was the key to its charm, so why does he look like he's on the verge of cracking up every moment of every shot? His continued delusion that this movie is funny is, at this point, the only funny thing in this movie.  It becomes clear the moment Elwood starts singing "It's Cheaper To Keep Her" why Jake sang lead when he was alive. Aykroyd cannot stop himself from hamming up during the performance, which is a bad habit I imagine he picked up over the course of a hundred million cheap posthumous Blues Brothers gigs with Jim Belushi.

24:00 -- Willie's bar has trouble with the Russian Mob! The Russian Mob could make a timely stand-in for the Illinois Nazis, what do you think? Anyway, Elwood offers them a drink, apparently slips them a mickey while they sing a "funny" drinking song in Russian (with Elwood inexplicably singing along) and then pass out.

27:30 -- Elwood gives a long, articulate explanation of the effects of the fall of Communism in Russia on its people, which might have made for a funny scene if not for its close resemblance the exact same joke in Wayne's World. The scene holds on a long shot of Elwood looking nonchalant, to wait out the riotous laughter in the audience before going on to the next scene.

28:00 -- Playing the role of the Illinois Nazis, the Russian Mafia! They begin a hilarious pursuit of Elwood that is sure to last the entire movie and generate at least two dozen genuine belly laughs (but not in this scene).

30:00 -- John Goodman -- here called Mac the bartender -- sings a song with the house band at the strip club, which soon turns into a duet with Elwood that, dare I say it, almost somewhat resembles the spirit of the musical numbers from the first movie. It's not like John Belushi was a great singer, he got by on attitude, and Goodman manages to do the same thing about 40% as well. Also, it puts Elwood where he belongs, at #2 status. I don't think anyone could really take the place of Jake, and it's something of an obscenity to even try, but John Goodman may be the least worst option. (Keep in mind, I say that with 90 minutes to go in this horror show, so it's subject to reevaluation).

32:00 -- The Russians shoot up and then burn down. "Willie's Stripster Bar," which is the worst name for any bar ever. The Russians see Elwood and Mac and leave them to die in the flames, a plan that has worked for no villain ever in the history of movies.

33:10 -- The first car chase begins! I hope it goes through a Mall or some other type of enclosed space!

33:50 -- My first light, single chuckle comes when Elwood instructs Mac to dump a bag of nails out on the road, and the Russians' car flips over and explodes, the first time this movie has been successful in baldly repeating something from the first movie -- in this case, totally nonsensical car chases.

35:10 -- Elwood inducting Mac into the band puts Buster to sleep in the back seat, which makes Buster about five minutes ahead of the audience.

35:45 -- This is the third time it's happened in the movie, and I haven't mentioned that Elwood parallel parks by screeching 180 degrees from top speed in the opposite direction. It's exactly as funny as it sounds.

36:00 -- Look, it's Matt "Guitar" Murphy and "Blue" Lou Marino, the guitarist and saxophonist from the old movie! They sell Mercedes-Benzes now. I guess Aretha will be making her entrance any second.



36:10 -- I let out an involuntary groan at the first shot of Elwood, Buster, and Mac in their Blues Brothers costumes. I knew this moment would come, but I still wasn't prepared for it. Elwood explains the outfits to a skeptical Mac:

"These are unsophisticated men. The only things they respond to are fear and the draw of lucre. We elicit this by using iconographic symbols and psychological intimidation. The way we look together now presents an image of strength and organization. Don't say anything, look mean, no smiling."
Elwood could easily be talking about whoever he talked into greenlighting this movie, and how he talked them into it. But I continue to wish he'd follow that last bit of advice -- his nonstop mugging has torpedoed this movie from the word go, not that it wouldn't have sucked otherwise.

37:08 -- Elwood tells Matt and Lou that he wants them to rejoin the band, and right on cue, Aretha enters. She gives the exact same acting performance she gave in the first movie -- she is terrible, but in exactly the same way that she was terrible in 1980 -- and thus feels like the first authentic element from the original to make it unscathed into this disaster. I'm sure they'll find a way to ruin it, though -- probably by sticking her with a crappy song.

38:18 -- Even worse: they have her do "Respect" at ¾ speed. She's great -- nothing can keep Aretha Franklin from being awesome, not even Blues Brothers 2000 -- but it's such a lazy choice. And I am really not okay with the ten-year-old Blues Brother in the sneakers. The Blues Brothers are supposed to be hardened criminals who came up in the school of hard knocks, not refugees from Boy Meets World. On the other hand, he does seem to be the only Blues Brother who can dance for more than four bars without calling for an oxygen tank.

42:00 -- Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn are now talk radio hosts! The movie doesn't bother to even show how they are lured back into the fold, trusting that we instinctively understand the irresistible, magnetic pull of two fat guys and a little boy all wearing the same outfit.

43:16 -- The trumpet player, who was the Maitre'd in the classic restaurant scene in the first movie, is now a funeral director (although he's dressed like a groom), but there is no danger of this funeral scene ever being called "classic."  I don't think I could be watching this movie any more closely, but I am still at a loss to explain why the Russian Mob is at this funeral. Did someone die in an earlier scene? This thing is way too PG-13 for that. Oddly, the scene ends with the Russians promising to drink vodka from Elwood's skull, which considering that he would start selling vodka in skull-shaped bottles ten years later, shows remarkable foresight on Aykroyd's part.

45:00 -- Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett do not embarrass themselves in the course of singing "634-5789," despite the efforts of skinny white boy Jonny Lang to capsize the number.

49:00 -- Noted Sinatra toadie Steve Lawrence makes a return appearance as booking agent Maury Sline, who supplies some exposition about a battle of the bands in New Orleans. You know what you guys? The New and Improved Blues Brothers Band should go and enter that battle of the bands! Wouldn't that be awesome?

51:30 -- It's explained that the next few scenes will be an exact rehash of the old movie -- The band is booked as "The Blue-grass Brothers" and Elwood crudely spray-paints "The Blues Brothers Band" on the side of an otherwise nice late-model sedan, and then -- John Popper gets a cameo? Is Blues Traveler going to play? Oh god, they are. I don't know if I can get through the second half of this thing.

55:30 -- Just when I thought this thing couldn't get any crasser, the band stops off for dinner at Bob's Country Bunker. But instead of having the band play "Rawhide," it kicks off another nonsensical car chase with the cops with some unfunny shaving cream-related slapstick.

1:00:40 -- I know I said I like the nonsensical car chases, but driving across the bottom of a pond like the car is a submarine is too silly by half.

1:02:00 -- Darrell Hammond is the leader of a white supremacist group, and comes dangerously close to being funny giving a white-power pep talk at a lakeside rally. Fortunately, the movie intervenes:


It only gets less funny from there.

1:07:00 -- The "Bob's Country Bunker" scene would be even funnier if it was at a Monster Truck rally, right? No? How about if the band plays a country two-step called "Riders In The Sky" and conjures spectral, skeletal CGI horses and riders from the clouds above the stage? Still no? What does this movie have to do to please you people? It's dancing as fast as it can!

1:12:10 -- If the State Police Commander is going to chase Elwood for this whole movie, it was a bad move to put the State Police Commander in a Blues Brothers outfit on the poster. It kind of deflates whatever infinitesimal amount of tension this pursuit might otherwise have created.

1:13:18 -- Elwood: "I guess you all want to quit." It's like Elwood can hear my thoughts!

1:17:40 -- I guess James Brown is about to reprise his role as Reverend Cleophus James. But first, blues legend Sam Moore (half of Sam and Dave) takes one called "John the Revelator." The music in this movie isn't nearly as good as in the first one, but it's easily the best thing it has to offer.


Anyway, the scene turns into a reprise of Brown's scene from the first movie, except this time it's the State Police Commander who sees the light, rises into the heavens, and his police uniform turns into a Blues Brothers outfit. When he lands, he takes the third verse of "John The Revelator" while James Brown sings backup. Repeat: JAMES BROWN does not solo, but sings backup to the scientist from Terminator 2.



1:26:30 -- What I assume will be the big final car chase begins, although I can't remember where these Blues Brothers are going or for what purpose. I'm sure it will be completely nonsensical, and it is! The sight of all these cars flying around willy-nilly raises my second light, almost imperceptible chuckle of the movie. And, it's over.

1:28:50 -- Right, they're going to the battle of the bands. And there is 35 minutes of runtime left in this thing. Believe me, I've been keeping track.

1:31:00 -- So the band is auditioning for a 130-year-old cannibal voodoo witch, played by Erykah Badu, and her butler/manservant/whatever is played like an Oscar Mayer ham by Paul Shaffer, who missed out on the first movie because of his Saturday Night Live contract. You're not going to believe this, but he plays it really big and flamboyant.

1:36:00 -- The queen impels the band to play "Funky Nassau" by turning them into green zombies. I swear I did not make that up. The band passes the audition (surprise!) but somehow they're all turned into wax dummies, a development which is not explained in any way.





1:39:30 -- "The Louisiana Gator Boys" are introduced as the other band, and of course it's full of ringers, led by B.B. King, Bo Diddley, and Eric Clapton, with Jimmie Vaughan and Isaac Hayes hanging around at the margins. Oh and there's Steve Winwood! And Billy Preston! And Clarence Clemons! What an all-star band! How will the Blues Brothers ever prevail? 

1:44:00 -- The Blues Brothers Show Band (as they are introduced three times) plays "Turn On Your Love Light" and it's fine -- that is until the moment little Buster takes the mic. Whose idea was it to have a kid in this movie? Seriously -- that person should not only not be allowed to make movies, he should no longer be allowed to watch them.

1:50:00 The Louisiana Gator Boys win the contest, just as the Russian Mafia and the White Supremacists arrive. Not to worry, the voodoo queen turns them all into rats. Then Nia Peeples leads the State Police into the venue, is told by her Commander that everything's fine, all conflict and dramatic tension is officially removed from the movie, and both bands have a big jam session together from here to the end of the movie, intercut with shots of Nia Peeples, who as I mentioned hosted a dance show in the '90s, dancing as though she has never seen or heard of the custom of dancing and is in the very earliest stages of inventing it. I'm a little shocked this movie didn't figure out some kind of excuse to get her into something a little more flattering.

1:54:30 -- I am so glad this movie's almost over.

1:55:20 -- But first, and I should have known this was coming, Elwood and Buster have to make a fast getaway, to keep Buster out of the clutches of the Penguin and foster care. One more nonsensical car chase to go. Sigh.

1:56:30 -- The final insult: in mid-car chase, Elwood tells the kid to put on his seatbelt, and then leads by example. John Belushi is rotisserieing in his grave, but the movie is over, so I guess it's one of those bad news/good news things.

So long, Blues Brothers. I always dreamed that one day I'd get to sodomize your corpse, but unfortunately I can't go for sloppy seconds. 



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