1980’s The Blues Brothers is an undisputed classic — but Blues Brothers 2000, its belated 1998 sequel? Well, that’s a different story altogether.
Released 25 years ago, some 18 years after the original, series star, co-creator and co-writer Dan Aykroyd threw everything at the wall in an attempt to continue the legacy, both cinematic and musical, of his first big-screen outing with his Saturday Night Live partner John Belushi.
However, the end result left audiences wishing he’d left well enough alone. Instead of the slick-cool vibes of director John Landis’s first film, Blues Brothers 2000’s misplaced, silly humour left viewers with a creeping case of the blues.
So what went wrong?
Looking back, maybe it was a victim of an abundance of expectations following a film that set the bar pretty high. Co-written by Landis and Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers found Jake (Elwood) reunited with his brother Elwood (Aykroyd) following a stint in Joliet prison.
After receiving a vision from the afterlife, Jake’s life purpose is revealed, setting these musical siblings on a mission from God to reform their band and raise enough money to save the orphanage that housed them as blues-loving kids. What follows is an insane road trip where Jake and Elwood round up their former bandmates while enraging Illinois Nazis, evading Jake’s bazooka-wielding ex, pissing off a bluegrass band and attracting the attention of almost all of America’s police officers.
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Then there’s its undersung cultural impact. Despite being fronted by two white male leads who showcased music created by black musicians, a factor that later resulted in accusations of cultural appropriation, Akyroyd, Belushi and Landis made sure that everything they did was powered by a love and respect for the blues — and its originators.
“Southern cinemas didn’t want to screen the film because of the African American artists,” revealed Aykroyd during a 2020 interview celebrating The Blues Brothers’ 40th anniversary, “but when it became a hit they opened up and people got to see it. It acts as cultural preservation.”
He continued, adding: “We made sure the writers of the material kept their publishing rights. John and I took performers’ rights only. Every one of those songs we recorded remunerated the original artists 100% due to album sales. It was an ethical decision and the songwriters today and their estates have benefitted from it.”
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Landis echoed the sentiment: "The Blues Brothers is a testament to John and Dan’s passion for the blues. They took advantage of their celebrity to focus attention on soul music. I’m proud of it.”
Meanwhile, fans had almost two decades to soak it all up; years spent learning Jake and Elwood’s dialogue verbatim, rewatching key scenes and binging its hit-filled accompanying soundtrack. By the time a sequel finally materialised in 1998, there was a very high chance that nothing it could do would possibly match what it had already achieved.
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For the most part, these expectations were spot on. Looking back at Blues Brothers 2000 as it turns 25 and its legacy is not only as a sub-par follow-up but one that regularly appears on lists of the worst sequels ever.
If we’re being kind, it’s not all bad.
Landis returns to pick up Elwood’s story 18 years after the events of the first movie, just as he’s released from his stint in Joilett — a sentence that Jake sadly didn’t make it through. Undeterred, he sets about reuniting the old band once again, this time with a few new members including John Goodman as new vocalist "Mighty" Mack McTeer and kid Buster Blues (J. Evan Bonifant).
Together, they waste no time replicating the manic, hot-pursuit narrative of the first movie, with plenty of musical cameos popping up throughout. It’s this area where the film largely succeeds, with enjoyable encore performances from Aretha Franklin and James Brown, and new musical numbers from the likes of Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett inhabiting the same vibe as the original.
However, when it comes to the film’s humour, things aren’t as toe-tappingly great. While part one flirted with the ridiculous (can the Bluesmobile really jump that bridge?), Blues Brothers 2000 fully embraced the goofy, complete with a number of sequences that are hard to forgive.
Would Elwood really be so worried about being seen without his sunglasses on that he’d resort to covering his eyes when they’re removed? Is plastering your entire head with shaving foam and claiming you’re having a bad reaction to medication enough to help you outsmart the police?
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The cartoonish nature of this late sequel is so amped-up that at one point, Elwood and his newly-reformed band get magically transformed into statues by an ancient voodoo witch and we’re expected to go along for the ride. It was at this point that most viewers probably hung up their hat and shades for good.
In retrospect, maybe Blues Brothers 2000’s real legacy is to serve as a stark warning for our current legacy-sequel-hungry movie audiences to be careful what they wish for.
Fan love for pop-culture properties or particular sets of characters can undoubtedly be strong enough to endure the ages — but sometimes it’s best to leave some classics undisturbed in the past.
Blues Brothers 2000 is available to rent or buy on PVOD.
Watch: Dan Aykroyd looks back at The Blues Brothers