Friday February 6, 1998
"18 Years Later."
With that pre-credit title nudge, the sequel to John Landis' supercharged 1980 car chase and R&B comedy "The Blues Brothers" begins, and you are warned: If you don't have a detailed and reverent memory for the first film, rent it and love it, or save your money for the soundtrack. "Blues Brothers 2000" is the best noise you're going to hear all year.
"BB 2000" actually plays more like a self-celebrating 20-year reunion of aging hipsters than a sequel. John Belushi, Cab Calloway, who played the brothers' orphanage mentor, and John Candy, the Chicago cop who chased the brothers all over Illinois, are gone, and remembered with a dedication. But every member of the Blues Brothers Band is back, as are blues legends Aretha Franklin and James Brown, and almost every scene is a tribute to its predecessor.
The absence of Belushi, who is replaced by not one but three new Blues Brothers, is fatal in itself. The Blues Brothers weren't a concept, they were Jake and Elwood, the Abbott and Costello of cool, and the act was so much a collaboration of Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, so dependent on the moves and attitude and talents that each brought to his character, that it's frozen in time.
Belushi's trio of replacements--John Goodman, as the bartender-turned-Blues Brother Mighty Mack McTeer; Joe Morton, state trooper-turned-brother Cab Chamberlain; and J. Evan Bonifant, orphan brother Buster--gives "BB 2000" some of its best moments.
Goodman and Morton can really sing the blues, and 12-year-old Bonifant, decked out in black suit, black hat and black sunglasses, does a perfect imitation of Aykroyd's seemingly inimitable dance style.
But no one will mistake the act for the original. Aykroyd can't do those moves anymore. Nor can Brown, as a swollen Rev. Cleophus James, still start a fire under his feet. And Franklin can't begin to get her substantial body in sync with her voice when she launches into Otis Redding's jumping "Respect."
The script, co-written by Landis and Aykroyd, is a near replica of the first, without the purpose. In the first film, Jake is picked up from an Illinois prison by Elwood, and they set out to reunite their band and earn a quick $5,000 to save their old orphanage for Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman). Jake undergoes a quick religious conversion, at a rockin' gospel service led by Brown, and from then on, the brothers are on "a mission from God."
In "BB 2000," Elwood is released from prison, visits now Mother Mary Stigmata (Freeman again), then sets out to reunite his band, not with a mission but with the redundant shrug, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." That mystery gives Landis free rein to go from one set piece, either a destruction derby of a car chase or a music production number, to another.
There are funny sight gags strewn throughout, but because so many scenes and confrontations are repeated from the original, there's a staleness and sense of melancholy to the whole affair. It is so dependent on the audience's familiarity and affection, you get the feeling of sitting around with old college chums, trying desperately to relive the past and stay awake at the same time.
In the most self-indulgent moment, Elwood gives his band a pep talk, closing with a litany of the greatest names in blues history, including Robert K. Weiss.
"Who's Robert K. Weiss?" someone asks. Elwood doesn't answer, but Weiss is an old friend of Landis', and the producer of both "The Blues Brothers" and the earlier "Kentucky Fried Movie."
All that said, the soundtrack album has to be a best buy. Besides Franklin and Brown, and the Blues Brothers Band, the film's all-star cast of musicians includes B.B. King, Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, Jonny Lang, Wilson Pickett and the Louisiana Gator Boys, a pickup bank that includes Eric Clapton, Jon Faddis, Lou Rawls, Bo Diddley, Isaac Hayes, Josh Redman and Steven Winwood.
It's only when the Louisiana Gator Boys and the Blues Brothers jam in the film's final moments that "BB 2000" approaches the energy of the original film.
Blues Brothers 2000, 1998. PG-13 for exotic dancing and some language. Steve "The Colonel" Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Murphy Dunne, Willie "Too Big" Hall, Lou "Blue Lou" Marini, Tom "Bones" Malone, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin: The Blues Brothers Band Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues. John Goodman as Mighty Mack McTeer. Joe Morton as Cabel Chamberlain. J. Evan Bonifant as Buster.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times