REVIEW: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Widely derided by critics and fans of the original film, Blues Brothers 2000 has spent almost a quarter-century being a poster child for ill-advised and unwanted sequels. It is well overdue that someone questions why.

Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) is released from prison, only to discover his brother Jake has died while he was incarcerated. Initially despondent, Elwood bounces back via a plan to re-assemble the Blue Brothers Band once again with the help of bartender Mack McTeer (John Goodman), young Buster Blues (J. Evan Bonifant), and unwilling police commander Cabel Chamberlain (Joe Morton).

The original Blues Brothers (1980) starred Aykroyd and John Belushi, and was spun out of their popular Saturday Night Live personas Jake and Elwood Blues. Not only was the first film a commercial success, it inspired an enormous cult following. The film still gets regularly screened in specialty cinemas today. Belushi died in 1982, but Aykroyd and the Blues Brothers Band continued performing irregularly for many years. There were multiple stand-ins for Belushi, including brother Jim Belushi and John Goodman. By 1998 Aykroyd finally got a sequel off the ground, with surviving members of the band returning as well as director John Landis. It was staggeringly unpopular on release.

We are, all in all, much too hard on Blues Brothers 2000 – tacky millennial title aside. Taken on its own merits this is a funny, faithful sequel that repeats much of the tone and style of the original film. That it is left copying old material rather than aggressively finding a new direction is its only serious flaw, and it’s one the film shares with most sequels. Its core purpose remains the same: it is an earnest celebration of and tribute to blues musicians and singers disguised as a musical disguised as a comedy.

This is not to say it doesn’t work as a comedy in and of itself. Aykroyd demonstrably knows how to land a joke, and there are still plenty of genuine funny moments, lines, and elements throughout. If it feels sub-standard compared to the original it is really because the original remains such an immensely iconic work.

The supporting cast fits in beautifully, particularly John Goodman – who has spent an entire career as one of Hollywood’s most quietly underrated talents. Joe Morton is also a welcome addition. J. Evan Bonifant is a pleasant-enough juvenile performer, and makes young Buster Blues an enjoyable presence, but your own enjoyment is really going to rely on your opinion of adding child characters into the mixture.

It is the musical performances that make Blues Brothers 2000 the most enjoyable. It is not simply the return of the surviving Blues Brothers Band, or that band member Paul Schaffer finally gets to perform with them on-screen. As with the original film a raft of musical talent guest star, including B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Erykah Badu, Dr John, Billy Preston, and many others. The music was always the point of the original film, and it is the point here. No sequel was going to match the unique cult charm of The Blues Brothers, and to 2000‘s credit it is not even trying to be.

As a film, Blues Brothers 2000 seems a middling effort. As a sequel, it is an inevitable disappointment. As a celebration of the original, staged with goodwill and love, it is a pretty enjoyable way to spend two hours.

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