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Fresh out of jail but in need of reform,
“Joliet” Jake, for whom odd is the norm,
Pairs up with his brother, one Elwood by name.
The orphanage where they grew up to such shame
Is led by a nun, who can’t pay a tax claim.
A visit to church has them both see the light:
They’ll rebuild the band to gain funds in the right.
From hotel bar has-beens who croon empty chairs
To one harried husband whose woman declares
He ought not to leave her, all members are theirs.
Their first gig does not go exactly as planned,
But soon they book just the right hall for their band.
The trouble is, as they’ve been driving around,
They’ve gained enemies who harass, hate, and hound,
Like Nazis and cowboys and cops, who surround.
They earn enough money so Elwood and Jake
Take off with a chaotic mess in their wake.
They flee through Chicago with foes on their tail,
And, due to their mission from God, they prevail.
Although luck runs out, the two still rock the jail.

Based on the Saturday Night Live skit with a screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis, The Blues Brothers is a one-of-a-kind comedy that never gets old. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are at the top of their games as the titular siblings, boasting an iconic suited presence and an unflappable demeanor, like the Men in Black without Agent J’s reactions. The two are absolutely hilarious as they endure being chased, shot at, and blown up with cool nonchalance, as if it’s all just another day in the life of a blues musician on the run.

Despite its simple storyline, the film contains many marvelous elements that work together to create a unique musical comedy. There’s the music, with plenty of blues, yes, but also tastes of gospel, soul, scat, rock, and even country/western (I still don’t understand the difference). There’s the comedy, with Belushi and Aykroyd shifting from laconic assurance to con-man determination and seeming to enjoy the ride just as much as we the audience. The film starts at a slow, measured pace, such as showing the inner mechanisms of a rising bridge rather than just the bridge, but builds in action and absurdity as villains, jokes, and vehicles begin to pile up with abandon. There are the car chases, long stretches of zealous mayhem that impart the same strange destructive satisfaction of a demolition derby. There are the cameos, with big musical names like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, and Cab Calloway, who don’t simply appear but contribute energetic performances and mostly serve a purpose in the plot as well. Other scene-stealing stars include Carrie Fisher as a scorned hit woman with an affinity for weaponry, John Candy as a police chief, and Henry Gibson as an Illinois Nazi with an over-the-top final scene, as well as other appearances by Twiggy, Chaka Khan, Frank Oz, and even Steven Spielberg. By the way, that kid that tries to steal the guitar in Ray Charles’ shop went on to play Argyle, the limousine driver in Die Hard.

All these elements that could potentially work on their own are only enhanced by their fun overlapping. My favorite parts would have to be Aretha Franklin’s “Think” and the excessive, car-ravaging climax, which is the definition of overkill. The film’s classic plotline has gone on to inspire many imitators, including The Muppets in 2011 and the best episode of Phineas and Ferb entitled “Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together.” It’s a shame that John Belushi met his end only two years after this, his most iconic role. Minus the frequent language, it remains his best film, a cult classic, and one of the funniest comedies of the ‘80s.

Best line: (Elwood Blues) “We’re on a mission from God.”

VC’s best line: (Jake, with fake accent, causing trouble in a fancy restaurant) “How much for the little girl? How much for the women?”  (father at next table) “What?”  (Jake) “Your women. I want to buy your women. The little girl, your daughters… sell them to me. Sell me your children!”

Rank: 58 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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