Blues Brothers 2000 is not just an excuse for a soundtrack album. But it sure is a good excuse for a soundtrack album.
As a film, it’s mediocre. The setup is painfully blunt. There’s not a lot of genuine motivation for the characters. Some of the musicians are called upon to act for seconds at a time, which is often too demanding for them. But WHO CARES? The pacing is good, no scene is so long that it bogs down, and there are enough musical interruptions to keep things humming along. Plus Elwood’s method of parallel parking is a great running gag.
Since we last heard from the Blues Brothers, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) has been imprisoned and Jake (John Belushi) has died. (The film itself is dedicated to the memories of John Belushi, Cab Calloway, and John Candy). Elwood is the last of the Blues Brothers. For a little while.
Elwood checks in with Sister Mary from the original movie and is assigned to mentor a 10-year old orphan, Buster (danced well and acted poorly by J. Evan Bonifant), who becomes Blues Brother #2. Elwood runs into Mack (played and sung surprisingly well by John Goodman), a shy bartender with a hidden talent for belting out blues numbers. Mack becomes Blues Brother #3. Cab Chamberlin (acted well and sung too neatly by Joe Morton) is the long lost son of Curtis (Cab Calloway from the original). He converts from Cop to Blues Brother #4 at a tent revival.
The story is as much a remake as it is a sequel: after a release from prison, the Blues Brothers get a mission from the nuns, try to get the band reunited, run from the cops, and ultimately have a big jam session. The musical numbers are pretty similar, too. There’s a gospel number, like before; an Aretha Franklin “tell him girl” number, like before; and a bluesed-up redneck number, like before.
Because there are so many similarities to the original, the movie draws attention to what has changed in 18 years. The Illinois state prison has been privatized. The Ray-Bans are now prescription. Sister Mary is now Mother Mary. The prison clerk played by Frank Oz is now the prison warden played by Frank Oz. Elwood still eats dry toast but he also scarfs Doritos and bacon, perhaps explaining the weight Aykroyd has put on in the intervening years. These little touches may not add quality to the movie, but they do make it more enjoyable to those familiar with the original.
The tone of the film has changed a little, too: it seemed like a surprisingly clean sequel. There are several lines in the movie condemning drug use, as if Belushi’s death by drug overdose still haunts Aykroyd. The last line of the film is Elwood telling Buster to buckle up. Elwood even buckles himself up to set a good example. Aykroyd is apparently trying to atone for his past recklessness. It made me pity the man who has success and now regrets how he got it.
The great the musical production numbers form the foundation of the movie, like before. Goodman proves himself worthy of the Blues Brothers name in “Looking for a Fox.” The groove of the gospel number “John the Revelator” is infectious. The arrangement of “Funky Nassau,” while not as Caribbean as they’d like you to think, is a satisfying blues interpretation of that standard.
Then of course there’s the amazing number by the “Louisiana Gator Boys,” a band comprised of some of the biggest blues legends alive. Sharing the same stage are B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Isaac Hayes, Lou Rawls, Gary U.S. Bonds, Koko Taylor, Jimmie Vaughan, Grover Washington, Steve Winwood, and Dr. John, to name about half. After they play “How Blue Can You Get,” they jam with the entire cast on “New Orleans.”
It’s such a strong ending that you can’t remember what it was that didn’t work from the beginning of the film.
Okay, so maybe it is just an excuse for a soundtrack album. But it sure is a good excuse.