ICYMI: Huge Davies on The Blues Brothers
Edinburgh Fringe 2019 Best Newcomer nominee Huge Davies takes on the might of comedy sacred cow The Blues Brothers
I was really looking forward to watching this film. I read the blurb and thought this could possibly be a perfect comedy film. A ridiculous nonsensical plot, over-the-top expensive car chases, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown all performing songs, led by two of the most lauded comedy actors in American cinema [John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd]. It’s always on ‘Best Comedies of All Time Lists’ and has been a cult classic for decades. But watching this was disappointing.
I’ll start off with things I liked. As anyone who earns money from live shows can attest, a film premise about raising a large amount of money just from gigging is quite a good joke. If I wanted to raise five thousand dollars in three days, I’d have a better chance of signing on than scoring a paid gig after a three-year hiatus.
The music is outstanding. Watching some of the best musicians of all time dance and sing did put a fat smile on my face, particularly Freedom and Shake a Tail Feather. I downloaded the soundtrack halfway through the film.
There are also many moments that are genuinely funny. When the nun stopped beating the Brothers with a stick, only to get out a bigger one and continue hitting them, it made me chuckle. The intense and stupid Carrie Fisher scenes are great too.
But where there are hits, there are many misses.
I actually liked the ideas of the jokes: the over-the-top car chases, the bar that throws bottles at them before they start playing, the thousands of police officers, army troops and national guards chasing them for a speeding ticket. The stupidity of it. But the joke just goes on forever. The final chase scene is over 20 minutes long. It reminded me of that bit in Anchorman, where all the news teams fight to the death. It’s completely out of the blue and probably the most memorable scene, but it only happens once. Scenes like this happen about ten times in TBB. They say timing is the most important thing in comedy but this joke finished ten minutes ago.
The plot and dialogue move at a snail’s pace. Watching it was like watching a play, but you can see the actors walking slowly to a different theatre to perform the next scene. When the brothers get pulled over you watch both cars slowing down, the police walking to the car, checking their licenses then walking back to their car, with almost no dialogue, all in real-time. It takes like three minutes. Every scene is like this. As I was watching it, I imagined a version of Shaun of the Dead that includes real-time footage of Shaun walking to his job at Dixons, tapping into the tube, then waiting in line for two minutes to buy flowers for his Mum.
Almost all the celebrity cameos are unnecessary. Frank Oz is a prison guard. Twiggy gets chatted up at a gas station. Steven Spielberg works at the bank. It’s staggering they had so many iconic people attached, but had them play normal characters doing nothing interesting. Maybe that’s the joke? It’d be like putting Lady Gaga in The Hangover but having her play a hotel receptionist who just smiles and wishes Zach Galifianakis a nice day.
The supporting characters are also quite unlikable. At one point Aretha Franklin’s husband tells her that women belong in the kitchen, throws his apron on the floor, storms out, joins the Blues Brothers and the scene just ends. It doesn’t even feel that offensive as it should, it’s just a strange scene with seemingly no joke or payoff.
I now understand that The Blues Brothers were two popular Saturday Night Live characters given a movie due to their popularity. That’s probably why it felt like a recurring sketch that lasted two hours. I also don’t like SNL, which could be most of the problem. This film was a bit like watching Kanye West’s music video for Bound 2. You’re quite enjoying the music, but you don’t really understand why you’re watching Kim Kardashian pretend to ride a motorbike in front of wild horses on a green screen for four minutes. I really wanted to like it, but it just made me want to blow the dust off my Anchorman DVD for old time’s sake.