Blues Brothers 2000 - * 1/2*

The Blues Brothers was a wonderful film, a hilarious comedy packed with good music. It cried out for a sequel, but John Belushi’s untimely death seemed to eliminate the idea. However, eighteen years have passed, and the long dormant sequel has finally emerged. Unfortunately, it’s a sequel not worthy of the original.

The film starts exactly eighteen years after the first one ended. Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) is just getting out of jail, his brother Jake having recently died. As in the first film, he first visits Mother Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) and then sets about getting the band back together.

John Belushi’s absence leaves a terrible hole in the film, and although three new characters are created to fill the void, it is still very noticeable. First, there’s Cabel (Joe Morton) the illegitimate son of Elwood’s stepfather (played by Cab Calloway in the first movie). Cabel is reluctant to join his destiny, and spends most of the movie as an Illinois sheriff, chasing the Blues Brothers Band. Next, there’s Mighty Mack (John Goodman), a bartender who becomes the new lead singer of the band. Finally, there’s Buster (J. Evan Bonifant), a ten year old orphan who tags along with Elwood and eventually joins the band.

The plotting of the film is hardly original…it seems to be almost a clone of the original. Elwood has to go to reluctantly retrieve each member of the band, they then travel, while being pursued by the police, and perform at several odd stops until they finally reach the big concert finale. The first film had Neo-Nazis as the random element, this time around, the Russian Mafia and a militia group fill their role.

In fact, the duplication of the plot is so ridiculously complete that certain scenes are practically identical to the original. Remember the classic performance at Country Bob’s (where they like both types of music: Country AND Western) from the first movie? Well, this movie has a performance at a country fair, where the band is expected to play bluegrass music. There’s the massive police car pileup, although this time the gag falls completely flat. There’s even an exact replica of the conversion scene in the church of Reverend Cleophus (James Brown).

There are plenty of recurring characters too. In addition to Mother Stigmata and Reverend Cleophus, Aretha Franklin reprises her role as Mrs. Murphy. Frank Oz, a prison guard in the first film, makes an appearance here as the prison warden.

As the stars, the new Blues Brothers don’t live up to their legacy. Aykroyd is more loquacious, yet much flatter as Elwood. John Goodman barely has a character as Mighty Mack. Joe Morton has the deepest character, but not a terribly interesting one, as Cab. And what’s the deal with the orphan? It plays like a desperate gimmick that doesn’t mesh at all with the rest of the film. At least Bonifant isn’t as precocious as he could have been in the role.

But the true star, and the only saving grace, of the film is the music. And the film is packed with it (even during and after the ending credits). Although there are no brilliant mergers of comedy and song as in the original’s Rawhide/Stand By Your Man medley, the music is very much enjoyable. To top it off, the film is packed to the gills with cameo musician appearances. B.B. King, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, Travis Tritt, Wilson Pickett, Erykah Badu, Bo Diddley and Steve Winwood are just a sampling of the multitude of stars that make an appearance here and there.

Unfortunately, the music pauses here and there to allow in the familiar plot. If simply copying the original Blues Brothers wasn’t bad enough, writers Aykroyd and John Landis dumb it down, removing any memorable characters, and replacing them with flashy, but unbelievable, magical gimmicks. It’s a shame. Buy the soundtrack and avoid the film. Better yet, rewatch the original…you’ll have a much better time.

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