Film Torments: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
THIS month’s theme at Film Torments ranks among the most consistently creatively-bankrupt practices in the film industry – sequels. This week, Rich Kee examines the much-maligned follow-up to a classic that nobody asked for: Blues Brothers 2000.
In the Noughties, sequels became more of a “thing”. It used to be that blockbuster films would be given rushed sequels with declining budgets and inferior directors simply capitalising on the name of the popular original. That type of sequel hasn’t exactly gone away, but around the time of Toy Story 2 this odd little idea: With the proper effort, keeping the same cast and doing a different story from the first one can make a sequel just as good, if not an improvement on the original.
Before 2000, there was a pretty scant number of sequels which warranted second viewing (The Godfather: Part II, Terminator 2, maybe a couple of Rockys, the third Planet of the Apes…) but well-made sequels are now commonplace and doesn’t always come across as a cynical cashgrab.
The sequel I’m talking about was one of the last to come out before the turn of the millennium, back in 1998. Like all things in 1998, the number 2000 was irritatingly tossed onto it showing how irrelevant they expected the film to be by the time the year 2000 even rolled around. Blues Brothers 2000 is an absolute disaster of a sequel, making back only half of its budget and being pretty much despised by anyone who has seen it.
It might be presumptuous of me to assume that everyone reading this knows the original The Blues Brothers from 1980, but I can’t imagine anyone not having heard of it. The brothers, played by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, would appear alongside musical guests on Saturday Night Live, the sketch show which made stars of them both. SNL would attempt time and time again to adapt popular sketches into feature films trying to capture what The Blues Brothers did, and I don’t recommend a single one of them. [Ed’s Note – Not even Wayne’s World?]
SNL has had over a hundred cast members in 40 years and is the starting point for many a superstar (Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray and Adam Sandler to name a few), but the first larger-than-life show stealer was John Belushi. Belushi’s tragic death secured him the reputation as a legend with immeasurable talent. You can watch any old sketch with Belushi, and he commits to every role with unpredictable energy.
That may be because he was absolutely off his tits on speedballs. While the film is consistently funny and the climax is hysterically destructive, it wouldn’t be considered a classic on comedy alone. The lifeblood of The Blues Brothers is the slew of cameos, which are totally tangential to the actual plot of putting on a show to save an orphanage.
Aretha Franklin shows up to belt out ‘Think’, James Brown appears as a gospel reverend giving it his all, and Ray Charles owns a music store where everybody in the vicinity conveniently knows ‘Shake a Tail Feather’ by heart. The king of them all though is Cab Calloway, who even in his seventies showed himself to be one of the most charismatic performers ever. His ‘Minnie the Moocher’ performance is the show-stopper of the movie for me.
The Blues Brothers is famous for its car chases, car crashes and car mall-raiding, all of which was done for real. Every stunt you see in the movie is genuine, and every wrecked building really is getting destroyed on camera. That only makes it funnier; this may be the grandest slapstick ever put on film.
Right, so I’ve gone through all the ingredients which made The Blues Brothers so popular: Realistic stunts, a killer soundtrack, and John Belushi. Blues Brothers 2000 was made 18 years later, by which time both Belushi and Calloway had passed away and Aykroyd was building a career as a supporting player in dramatic films rather than doing pure comedy. Absolutely nobody wanted a sequel to The Blues Brothers – if you wanted a second dose, you can just watch the first one twice!
The first step was replacing Belushi, for which they chose John Goodman. Now, I have a bias when it comes to John Goodman, because he’s one of my favourite actors. Goodman improves just about every film he does, and has the effortless charm and expert timing to redeem otherwise mediocre flicks.
Even bad movies with John Goodman will at least have people saying, “Well, the movie sucked, but I liked John Goodman.” The guy can also sing, and had appeared with the original Blues Brothers on SNL. Though he lacked the physical wildness of Belushi, he could certainly crack a joke and rock out to R&B just as well.
This is the only movie I’ve ever seen which John Goodman doesn’t improve. He’s given very little dialogue, has almost no distinct character and is just kind of there because there needs to be a second guy. Goodman gave the performance of his life in The Big Lebowski the same year, but he’s just a whole lot of dead weight in this turkey.
Two other pointless additions were made to the “brothers”; Cabel, the late Curtis’ son (played by the usually excellent Joe Morton), and some fucking kid. His name doesn’t matter, he’s just some fucking kid. Somebody said, “Hey, why don’t we throw in a ten-year-old boy and dress him in a suit with trilby and shades? That’ll be cute.” That person didn’t get fired. Some fucking kid is the worst part of this film. He’s the Scrappy to Aykroyd’s Scooby.
Aykroyd himself coasts through the movie. He was always the super-cool straight man in the original, in counterpoint to the slovenly and impulsive Belushi. Here, where there’s no Jake for Elwood to balance out, he’s just a boring static character played by a man pushing 50 and no longer passing for cool. The practical stunts are replaced with shocking CGI effects which I barely saw because I could barely look at the screen.
The music, while bringing back James Brown and Aretha Franklin and adding a bunch more including Wilson Pickett and Blues Traveller, lacks the smooth spontaneity and just feels tacked-on because it worked in the first one. The Louisiana Gator Boys are an antagonistic supergroup comprised of legends: Clapton, Hayes, Rawls, Winwood, King… all people I have to assume were either fans of the original or were offered a generous paycheque.
Every attempt to recapture the first film’s magic falls on its face. Occasionally there’s a good scene (Aretha Franklin singing ‘Respect’ is a pleasure) but they usually settle for trying to one-up classic moments from the original. Belushi leaves a hole so massive even John Goodman can’t fill it, especially with some fucking kid and some black guy. Cab Calloway and John Candy were also dead by this point, meaning three major cast members were absent and those still around were getting too old for this shit.
Blues Brothers 2000 is an embarrassment to watch, and an embarrassment to have been made. You can watch the first film a hundred times and still be amused and still rock out to the contagious music, but this sequel isn’t even worth giving the benefit of a doubt. It’s crap. Pure, pointless crap. Let’s just be glad that, should they ever attempt Blues Brothers 3000, Dan Aykroyd will be dead too.