Film Review: Spies Like Us (1985)

Release Date: December 6th, 1985
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Dave Thomas
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, Paul McCartney (title song)
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Forrest, Donna Dixon, Bruce Davison, Bernie Casey, William Prince, Tom Hatten, Vanessa Angel, Frank Oz, Terry Gilliam, Ray Harryhausen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi, Bob Hope, B.B. King, Larry Cohen

AAR Films, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“They do seem to be headed in that general direction. Maybe your dick’s not so dumb.” – Austin Millbarge, “It got me through high school.” – Emmett Fitz-Hume

When talking about the great comedy films of the ’80s, few ever mention Spies Like Us. While it stars two comedy legends in Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, it’s sort of been lost in the shuffle with their other movies.

I had a friend’s dad who used to watch this movie constantly, when it first popped up on premium cable. While I loved it too, going over to my friend’s house almost always meant that we’d have to sit through this for the umpteenth time. I’m not sure why his dad was obsessed with this specific movie but because of that, I got burnt out on it and hadn’t watched it since, other than coming across some clips, here and there.

Watching it now, I am no longer plagued by the fatigue I once had for this film and I got to see it with somewhat fresh eyes.

Dan Aykroyd has always been a favorite of mine and honestly, I have had a new appreciation of Chevy Chase after revisiting and reviewing a lot of his movies lately. In this, he’s exceptionally good and it’s as if the movie was written specifically with him in mind.

Aykroyd is also on his A-game in this and the two men had good chemistry, which probably goes all the way back to their time on Saturday Night Live. And with that, I really wish these two would’ve worked together more often. I think all they did together after this was the abysmally bad and super weird Nothing But Trouble and Caddyshack II, where they were barely used and I’m not even sure if they shared any scenes in that one, at all.

Anyway, this sees the two legends paired together and sent into the Soviet Union as spies. What they don’t know going into their mission is that they are just sent in to create a distraction for the real spy team. However, they do end up rising to the occasion and help complete the real mission.

This was directed by John Landis, who had a real penchant for comedy, especially in the ’80s. He had directed Aykroyd a few times before this and he’d work with Chase after. But if you like Landis’ style of comedy, this fits right in with the rest of them.

Spies Like Us is just a fun, fairly mindless movie. Being that the Cold War was still seemingly going strong when this came out, it allowed people to laugh about it and also see Americans and Russians working together for a greater good.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King, The Blues Brothers Band, Erykah Badu, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Issac Hayes, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, Paul Shaffer, Travis Tritt, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Kathleen Freeman, Frank Oz, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Nia Peeples, Darrell Hammond, Max Landis

Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Willie, you gotta understand. Those goons are orphan remnants of the post-perestroika Soviet secret police apparatus, which, until 1991, carried out its twisted interpretation of the original well-intentioned Marxist-Leninist doctrine vis-a-vis state security, which was massively corrupted by Lavrentiy Beria in the ’30s. Of course, once a mass populace is coerced into such behavior as a permanent condition, a radical didactic, dialectic shift, such as glasnost, produces guys like these:…” – Elwood Blues

I never wanted to see this movie.

For one, the first one was perfect and should have been left alone. Especially, after the death of John Belushi. Had he not passed away at a young age and then wanted to do a sequel, I probably would’ve been fine with that. Something just seemed grossly inappropriate about this film even being made but Hollywood has no morals, shame or respect for anything so I can’t say that this movie’s existence didn’t surprise me.

I figured that I’d give it a fair shot, though. Mainly, I wanted to review it and because maybe I was initially too harsh on this and it’s possible that it might be a nice tribute to Belushi.

Well, I wouldn’t call it nice or even good, really. Now it’s not as terrible as other people have led me to believe, over the years, but it’s kind of a pointless movie.

The reason why it’s pointless is that it takes all of the famous beats of the original film and just reuses them… poorly. It’s like Dan Aykroyd and John Landis dusted off the script to the original, changed some character and location names, moved some scenes out of sequence and then tried to do some clever modifications. Unfortunately, these tricks were really transparent and what we’re left with is a lame, terribly derivative picture that doesn’t have a reason to exist. Well, except for maybe one reason.

That reason is the music itself. I know that Aykroyd and Landis love the blues and they, at the very least, were able to create some solid musical sequences that I enjoyed. Now none of them are as iconic as the ones from the original movie but these sequences are where you can see that the creatives involved in the movie were really trying their damnedest to make this something special.

So, I can’t knock the musical parts but if the threads holding these sequences together is made of shit material, well, the semi-attractive tapestry is just going to fall apart. And sadly, that’s what happens with this movie.

In the end, I don’t hate this but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: its far superior predecessor and other John Landis comedies.

Film Review: The Blues Brothers (1980)

Also known as: The Return of the Blues Brothers (original script title)
Release Date: June 20th, 1980
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: various
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson, John Candy, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, Frank Oz, Charles Napier, Steven Spielberg, Steven Williams, Paul Reubens, Chaka Kahn, John Lee Hooker, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Joe Walsh, Armand Cerami, B.B. King

Universal Pictures, 133 Minutes, 148 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” – Elwood, “Hit it.” – Jake

This was a favorite comedy of mine, as a kid. It also probably helped develop my love of music, as it exposed me to styles that weren’t simply the standard pop tunes of the day. Given the film’s name, one could assume that this is full of blues music but it also features some soul, jazz, rock and a bit of country and western.

The Blues Brothers also solidified John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as two of the coolest guys working in Hollywood. Sadly, Belushi died two years later but my exposure and love of this movie led me down the path of watching everything Dan Aykroyd did for well over a decade. It also made me appreciate and love the work of director, John Landis.

A movie like this reminds of what movies used to be. It came out in a stupendous era for film and provided audiences with legitimate escapism from the harsh realities of the real world. This didn’t try to preach to you or force fed you some lesson, it was just a hell of a lot of fun, featured incredible music, didn’t take itself too seriously and offered up a tremendous dose of comedy when you didn’t have to worry about offending a small percentage of people that don’t buy anything, anyway.

This reminded me of why I watch so many retro movies and why I don’t really give a shit about new stuff coming out. At least for the most part. I’m am really intrigued by the newest adaptation of Dune, even if it is only going to be relegated to the small screen. But I digress, as I’ve gotten side tracked here. I just thought that it was necessary to explain what sort of feeling and thoughts this movie generated, seeing it in 2021 for the first time in quite awhile.

The Blues Brothers features dozens of great cameos of legitimate musicians essentially playing fictional versions of themselves. Strangely, this works. I think that also has to do with the film jumping around a lot and by putting the bulk of the acting work on Belushi and Aykroyd, who proved that even at their young age, they could certainly carry a motion picture and entertain just about everyone through their brand of comedy and music.

That being said, it also made me miss the really old days of Saturday Night Live. I was born after that show started but I did have access to a lot of those classic episodes growing up thanks to my uncle’s massive VHS library.

Anyway, this is just an energetic, lighthearted movie with soul and personality. It’s the type of picture that brings people together and leaves them all with a smile. I fucking miss movies like this.

I should also get the soundtrack on vinyl because not owning it should be a crime and I’m disappointed in myself for not having it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other comedies by John Landis, also those by Ivan Reitman, as well as comedies starring Dan Aykroyd.