Why doesn’t Dan Aykroyd just go all the way and play a robot? In Blues Brothers 2000 (Universal), the sequel that perhaps no one but the immediate family of B.B. King was waiting for, Aykroyd, as Elwood Blues, revives the poker-faced outlaw-musician routine we all remember with such singular affection. Once again, Aykroyd speaks in a rigidly unconvincing Chicago accent, refuses to take off his Ray-Bans, and delivers each line in the exact same staccato ’50s monotone, as if he were an accountant who’d overdosed on caffeine. It has, of course, been 18 years since the original Blues Brothers movie, and nearly 20 since Aykroyd first launched the routine on Saturday Night Live along with his partner, the late John Belushi. The Blues Brothers may now just qualify as the most overextended one-joke shtick in history.
In place of Belushi’s Jake Blues, Aykroyd and his director-collaborator, John Landis (the two cowrote the script), give us another undulating fatty, John Goodman as the blues-singing bartender Mighty Mack McTeer, who becomes Elwood’s new soul brother. The endless, dawdling story has our heroes trying to assemble a band as they evade an assortment of boring adversaries (cops, Russian agents, a white-supremacist militia group). In an unfortunate subplot, the talented Joe Morton is on hand as an uptight military officer who undergoes a heavenly conversion and becomes the band’s first black frontman. The movie seems to be saying that he’s not really black until he throws off his uniform and moves his happy feet.
Landis hasn’t lost his incomparable gift for staging every joke with flat, look-at-how-funny-this-is airlessness. He may be the only director in Hollywood who could make a musical number set at a black tent-show revival meeting look like a commercial for laundry detergent. Along the way, Elwood and company keep running into famous old musicians. By now, though, there’s something more than a little disquieting about the way the film wheels out its roots-music pantheon (Junior Wells, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, etc.) as if they were noble exhibits in some African-American wax museum. Blues Brothers 2000 parades its reverence for black music in an unctuous, self-congratulatory way — it’s an act of retro fetishism, an aging-yuppie minstrel show. The joke of the movie, of course, is that Elwood, in style and attitude, is really the whitest man in history. He just can’t help himself — he loves those blues. The joke, though, makes sense only in a universe where black music and white audiences exist on friendly but distant planets. That universe is long gone now (something we can all be thankful for), and it would be nice if this routine had died with it. D