Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:05 - Released 2/6/98

Aretha Franklin. James Brown. B.B. King. Wilson Pickett. Eric Clapton. Lou Rawls. Isaac Hayes. Bo Diddley. Billy Preston. Dr. John. Clarence Clemons. . . . With a roll call like this, who needs anything else?

When The Blues Brothers came out in 1980, it was a silly movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, which also happened to have a pretty good soundtrack. This time, Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis have given up any pretense at plot for an excuse to host the best musical experience on celluloid in this decade. Unlike its predecessor, Blues Brothers 2000 is virtually worthless without the music. But the music's so good, it doesn't matter.

The character of Elwood Blues (Aykroyd) has done a complete about-face since we last saw him. What was always funny about Elwood was his total absence of personality when he was not onstage. He would stand there, stone-faced behind his Ray-Ban G15's, and let his brother Jake (John Belushi) do all the talking. Now the entire exposition of the story rests on Elwood's shoulders, and that is unfortunate. Aykroyd has made him into a yammering busybody like John Ratzenberger's "Cliff" character on Cheers. He's so articulate, it's tragic.

But he's not the only one suffering from a split personality. John Goodman's character, Mighty Mack, can't seem to settle either. Half the time he's a nerdy country boy; the other half, he seems to have taken over Elwood's previous job of monosyllabic blues automaton. And this time there are two other "brothers": Cabel Chamberlain (Joe Morton), a cop who eventually sees the light, and Buster (J. Evan Bonifant), a 10-year-old who probably has fewer than five lines in the movie, but he's definitely got the moves.

Writer Aykroyd has included, in addition to the entire membership of the original band (minus Belushi), familiar elements such as a pointless cop car pileup, a group of Southern good-old-boy terrorists led by Darrell Hammond (Saturday Night Live), and Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman), the nun from the first movie who now wields a switchblade-style baton for whipping the knuckles of transgressors. The addition of a group of Soviet Russians (you heard me) further leads one to believe that this script was written back when Aykroyd was still collecting a regular paycheck from NBC.

But it just doesn't matter. Because this movie is about the music. Aretha Franklin's relaxed-but-sexy version of "Respect" is even better (if that's possible) than her "Think" done for the first movie. B.B. King is at the top of his form as the leader of the all-star blues band against which the Brothers must compete in the final sequence. And this climax, with two dozen of the greatest soul and blues personalities alive, has to be experienced to be believed. I defy anyone to sit still through it. A concert featuring all these R&B greats playing together would cost over 100 bucks for the cheap seats. But you can see them for the price of a movie admission.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go stand in line and wait for the soundrack to come out. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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