Secret Santa Review Swap: The Blues Brothers- Ries of The CK

Our very own Ries writes a review for The Blues Brothers for The CK’s Not So Secret Santa Review Swap (in July). Enjoy:

The first thing I can think as I finish up watching the Blues Brothers for the first (yes, the first) time in my life is – man, I wish I’d seen that when I was eight years old, back when there wasn’t yet a dissonance between the comedy of the world and the reality of it. It reminds me in some ways of Ghostbusters, my favorite comedy film of all time, though it does so only just, and in that way falls short of the masterpiece with an audacity that I cannot help but find off putting. That’s right, folks, I said it – the Secret Santa swap added the Blues Brothers to my list of cinematic blasphemies. I did not like this movie.

Before I get pelted with rotten trash and bottles of beer, let me explain something else. I have a knack for making enemies over the “comedy classics” – I think the Blues Brothers caught the same disease that ailed other famous films like The Princess Bride, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck and Airplane. My dislike for these films is a strange dislike. Usually when someone doesn’t like a movie, they get pretty huffy about it if you press them. Like you’re the idiot for liking the film. This time, though, I feel like I’m the idiot. Like something happened in the magic trick that I didn’t see and I’m less of a film lover for it. I don’t know what point I missed in the Blues Brothers, but I have a strong feeling it was there. Somewhere in the middle of the carnage was a purpose, and I missed the boat. Plus, I’m Catholic. The guilt is twofold.

But let’s back up. Dan Akyroyd is, as per usual, amazing in this movie. I’ll always know him as Ray (the man who taught me what to say when someone asks if you’re a god, for instance) but he vanished into this role as effectively as a man might hide behind a pair of dark black sunglasses. He was fun to watch, he’ll be fun to quote, and frankly, I wish he’d said more. It saddens me that so much of the film was given to the role of Jake, played by John Belushi, a character that grated on me unbearably basically every time he spoke. It’s sad that Englewood had so little to say, but I suppose that was part of what made his character one of the only genuinely funny bits of this two hour pseudo-concert.

A word about the music. I was as happy to see James Brown and Ray Charles share a screen as the next guy, but there’s only so much a film can offer when it’s entire purpose is to be a vehicle for a bunch of musical numbers. That, and…here we go. Here comes the armageddon of hatred, but I’ll go ahead and say it. The music in this flick really wasn’t that good. Some parts were a lot of fun, namely the wonderful performance of Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway, but they were too few and far between to warrant an entire film to escort them. I was also quite happy with the sequence dedicated to Rawhide, but again…well, you get the idea.

Now, on an interesting note – I have to point something else about this movie that irked me. It’s not often (in fact, I think this may be the first time I’ve ever mentioned something along these lines) that I find the humor in a film genuinely mean spirited. I’m not saying that the film was mean spirited on the whole – it wasn’t. Sometimes, however, I wondered where the humor was in abandoning a woman at the altar in front of her family, then weaseling your way back into her trust only to drop her in the mud. I wondered where the humor was in evading two well meaning cops, or in causing copious amounts of senseless (albeit cool to watch) destruction. In truth, I related more to Carrie Fisher’s character and the cops than the Brothers.

It’s not the first time a film like this has given me pause. I had a similar reaction after I finished watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – hold the pitchforks, that movie’s got one of my favorite scenes of all time – wherein I wondered at the humor of a film, and wondered what its creators were trying to achieve with it. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off strikes me as a far more intelligent film than the Blues Brothers, but I think the Blues Brothers has more going on upstairs than people might give it credit for and/or hold it accountable to. I wonder if it’s because a lot of comedies from this decade of filmmaking were thinly veiled commentaries on then-contemporary social issues, issues ranging from racism to feminism to a post World War II hatred for Nazi ideals, still lingering, still potent.

Ultimately, I didn’t like this movie. Not at all. It didn’t make me laugh, the music was stale, the acting was unimpressive and uninvolved, and it was about two hours too long. I’ve always wanted to see the Blues Brothers, so I didn’t have a vendetta going into it, but I have to admit that I left it feeling incredibly underwhelmed and like I’d wasted two precious hours I could have spent unpacking my apartment sitting around watching a movie I had to force myself to endure. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. A loose film is a bad film, even if it is on a mission from God.

The Good: A great performance by Cab Calloway, and a neat cast of musical legends.
The Bad: The fact that outside generally lackluster musical numbers, this film hovers above unwatchable.
The Ugly: That I’m clearly missing the point of this movie, and my life is less glowy for it.

Overall: 5.5/10

Reviewer: Ries, of The Cinematic Katzenjammer
Santa: Aaron Pierce, Writer & Photographer

Written By Ries

Ries is a writer, blogger, amateur explorer and full time United States Marine. He graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and is busy putting that degree to work writing elite movie reviews for sites like CineKatz. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, movie watching, talking to himself in the mirror and working on novels that may or may not ever be finished. Of all the things he misses about being a civilian, he misses his beard the most.

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  • 70srichard

    With all due respect to the U.S. Marine Corp, how did they allow this clearly deranged, commie sympathizer into their ranks? What kind of American doesn’t dig Aretha in the Dinner, Ray in the Pawn shop, and dancing citizens all over Chicago? You can accept that Bill Murray is trying to seduce coeds by fraudulent paranormal testing, but a self centered dick like Jake is not funny? Yeah he lies to his girlfriend, he lies to everyone else (except his brother) as well. He is a comedic anti-hero to laugh at not to sympathize with. All joking aside, I know that some forms of humor are not shared by everyone, and this appears to be one of the places where you take a side trip. It’s too bad you can’t see out the window of the car, because the view I’ve had for 33 years has been hysterical. This has been a blackhole film in our house since my kids first saw it fifteen years ago. We cannot escape it’s gravitational pull. The music, far from being stale is invigorating and the musical sequences are well staged. It’s OK Ries, I know people who don’t like Coca Cola or puppies, and I don’t hate them, I just feel sorry that they miss out on all the joy I get to experience. Better Luck next time.

  • Brian

    Wow. I will seriously never read a review from this person again. “Unwatchable”? I have no words for this.

  • Ries

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ries

    Thanks Rich. 🙂

  • David Gilleand

    Don’t listen to the negative comments, Ries. See for me, I don’t think I would like this movie either. Maybe back when it came out, but there’s a reason why I review movies the way I do. The thing is..the movie came out almost a decade before I was even born, and probably another two decades before I even became interested in observing film. We have expectations, that’s life. I can appreciate it for what it was, absolutely, but for a new audience, that’s another question.

  • Roni

    I really like this film, but I really want to praise this review, as I know few others who are able to speak their minds in terms of film preferences. As for me, I cant stand Edward Scissorhands.

  • Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but the musical performances in Blues Brothers are all pretty top-notch stuff. Calling them “stale” is kind of hyperbolic. There’s way too much going on in them to be stale. It feels more like you just don’t enjoy the genre and era of music, which is fine, but you also say that you were happy to see JB and Ray Charles so I’m a little confused. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m merely trying to understand where you’re coming from.

    I did see the movie when I was a kid, though, over and over again. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and it laid the seeds of my love for soul and R&B music. So I can’t claim to be seeing the movie free from nostalgia. In any case, it was definitely an interesting review to read!

  • Ries

    Hey Will, thanks for reading/the comment. I actually really love this genre of music, and I think that contributed to why I was so let down by the musical numbers. I mentioned early on that I wish I saw this movie when I was a kid, probably because if I’d seen it at that age I would have loved it a lot more. Anyway, thanks again for stopping by. 🙂

  • Ries

    Hey, you know what. Let’s drink a beer over our blasphemous movie tastes. Thanks for commenting, Roni. 🙂 (As you can see, I am going through the ringer.)

  • Ries

    It’s a different era, that’s for sure. Maybe if I’d seen it when I was a kid, or if I’d seen it when it came out. I’ve run into similar problems before – the film “Deer Hunter,” for instance, I recognize as an important film, but on the whole it left me unimpressed. (I know. Bring the pitchforks and tar and feathers and torches.) Thanks for showing some support, Dave, I’ve been surprised at the personal attacks I’ve gotten for this article. But I guess that’s the nature of today.

  • Shane

    I love this movie, but respect your opinion. As always, at least you back up your criticism of the film. I kind of get where you’re coming from, but I love the whole getting the band back together part of the film. Something continuously borrowed from this film throughout the years. Again though, I saw this many time when I was very young and it definitely makes a difference. I also don’t think there is ever a reason to be so aggressive over film… But, if you would of said you hated Ghostbusters I think we would need to go our separate ways. Haha

  • Vivek Subramanyam

    I love this movie, but I think I might be able to help you. Obviously you’re aware of the running gag that started with SNL as these hyper talented white guys with an affinity for blues – a black man’s musical genre trying to revive the genre through sheer badassery. And that’s more or less the whole movie. I think the overall joke is less about the plot or what you’re seeing on the screen – which is really one big sequence of catch & release programs with the Blues Brothers pissing off more and more assholes just by being two superbly awesome and badass guys who are doing their thing – and more about the fact that you’re actually watching this hilariously absurd movie play out…and even better that you’re actually having fun watching what theoretically should be a supremely shitty and borderline regressive (depending on what your opinion of white people in the blues genre) movie.

    That’s my interpretation. All I can really tell you for certain is that the movie was a blast to watch as a kid and it’s just as fun to watch now, provided you understand that it’s no more profound than a movie about…a guy who just wants to escape from all the pressures of his life by dancing.

  • Ries

    Nah, man. I love Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters is everything a comedy should be, in my opinion. I love the “Get the gang back together” genre as well. I loved the Muppets, for instance. Ah, well.

  • Ries

    Like I said, many people love this movie. I missed the boat. That’s sad to me, but there are a lot of other movies to love. Thanks for commenting, V. 🙂

  • Maso

    There are many points you missed about the movie. 1st, this movie is uber just for the love of music it has and the tribute to blues it leaves. 2, it reminds you of ghostbusters because… Dan and John were planning the movie already, (in fact when Elwood goes to make a call John asks him “WHO YOU GONNA CALL?” of course John died, before they did, Eddy Murphey was supposed to be in it too. 3 Dan and John were the Blues Brothers before the movie they would go and play concerts sell albums and do comedy in saturday night live, ages before the movie. 4. im sorry dont wanna bash, but u say u dont like the music? what is it u say mediocre quality? Aretha Franklin? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS… get a culture…

  • Maso

    Oh i forgot, Dan and John went way back, when they had just emerged and did lots of Cocaine (there is a movie on Belushi) and had tried to work together since. John was also very good friends with Robin William at the time but thats another story…

  • rich

    i didn’t read the other comments, so some of this might have been said. the movie wasn’t great as a movie, but it was a very good collection of some very good film moments. the car chase in the mall is fabulous. rawhide, as you mentioned. belushi falling down stairs while sitting in a school desk. or maybe it was akroyd, and likely it was a stuntman anyway, but it was fabulous. the opening scene all the way to “better get the cigarette lighter fixed.” but i agree, it’s one of those movies that seems to have a mystique about it that supersedes what we would normally use to “like” a film. same for ferris bueller. i hated that movie. and spaceballs, that sucked.

    as for akroyd stepping into the role, keep in mind that these characters were created well before the film, so that should be expected for both of them. but as for your overall assessment, i can’t argue.

  • Ries

    Hmmm…a culture? What is this culture of which you speak…and where may I find one? 😉 On a serious note, I love the era and style of the music, but I didn’t like the performances. Thanks for commenting.

  • Ries

    I did not know that Belushi and Williams knew each other. Interesting.

  • Ries

    Yeah, I met some heated flak for this review. Who knew I’d accidentally incite World War III? Ferris Bueller is a movie that I still haven’t found the capacity to enjoy as a whole, but it’s got a great scene in it (the street parade). There’s an underpinning to it that bugs me. I can’t really put my finger on it. And f*ck Spaceballs. So we’re on the same page there.