The Blues Brothers

The Blues BrothersNormally I’m not a fan of musicals.  Every time the plot gets going, the actors out into song for no reason and I have to wait several minutes before we can just get on with the story already.  There’s only so much bad lip-synching and odd choreography a guy can take before shutting things down entirely and spending the evening playing Peggle instead.  Pseudo-dramas like West Side Story are the worst offenders, as I can’t help but wonder why, given that the Jets and the Sharks don’t get along, they somehow manage to pull off two hours worth of singing and dancing instead of just fighting each other and getting things over with.  But I digress.  My point here is to establish some groundwork to lend a bit of context to the following sentence: The Blues Brothers is awesome.  It’s a musical that is keenly aware of how ridiculous it is, and embraces the nonsensical rules of musicals with brilliant, often hilarious, results.

The basic idea is pretty simple, and follows a well-worn path we’ve seen a hundred times before: Jake and Elwood, two brothers who used to be in a blues band before Jake got sent to prison, have to come up with five thousand dollars in three days or their former Catholic school will be forced to close its doors forever.  The catch? Sister Mary Stigmata, whom the brothers affectionately call The Penguin, demands that the money be procured legitimately.  Their solution? Get the band back together and put on enough shows to get the money.

Blues Brothers: Aykroyd, Belushi

Jake and Elwood, on a mission from God.

From that point on, the movie just expands on this basic premise while upping the ante and increasing the exaggerations until the final car chase which is so ridiculously over-the-top one can’t help but be absolutely flabbergasted.  Following their visit with The Penguin, the brothers go to a church service where an energetic pastor played by the legendary James Brown leads the congregation in a rousing chorus so boisterous the choir members are doing backflips 20 feet in the air.  It’s enough to convert even the most hard-hearted heathen, and Jake and Elwood become convinced the Lord is personally sending them on a mission to save the orphanage.  From then on it’s a road trip in the grandest tradition of the genre as the two brothers must not only reunite the band but find a way to scrape together enough cash to stop the orphanage from shutting its doors forever.  The ending is a foregone conclusion, but like all good road trip movies, it’s the journey that is the reward.

But what makes The Blues Brothers so enjoyable is the fact that it wholeheartedly embraces its own absurdity, while Aykroyd and Belushi play their characters with such straight-laced seriousness that Elrond himself is probably jealous.  Director John Landis seems to take a “well, why not?” approach to things, and by the end the movie practically defines gratuitous excess.  A car chase through a mall decimates nearly every store and kiosk in sight.  A jilted ex-fiancee uses RPGs and remote-controlled bombs (clearly labelled “Detonate,” naturally) to exact vengeance.  Another car chase involves dozens upon dozens of police cruisers and ends with a small army of cops, SWAT teams, and military personnel tracking the brothers through the streets of Chicago.  The whole spectacle is all the more astonishing considering there is nary a pixel of CGI in sight.

Of course there are musical numbers throughout the film, but the toe-tapping blues tunes powered by greats like Areatha Franklin and Ray Charles keep the energy high and fit perfectly within the strange confines of the ridiculous storyline.  And while I doubt I’ll be loading my Netflix queue up with more musicals anytime soon, I did thoroughly enjoy this story of two brothers on a mission.

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