Reel Toronto: Blues Brothers 2000 & The Un-Windy City
Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Even the legendary Elwood Blues cannot distract from the glaring sight of CBC Headquarters.
There are a zillion reasons why Blues Brothers 2000 is not as good a film as the classic The Blues Brothers, but we think it can be boiled down to two key missing factors: John Belushi and the city of Chicago.
As for the former, they tried to replace the late, great comedian with his brother, Jim, and then opted for John Goodman. You can’t replace Belushi, but we’ll be nice and say they tried.
No, the real problem is that in the first film you can feel Chicago in every frame. In Blues Brothers 2000, you can feel Chicago’s absence in every frame. We love our Toronto, but it simply doesn’t have the grit and street-level harshness of The Windy City.
In an early scene Metro Hall is asked to double for an Illinois State Police HQ and it just doesn’t work. If you live here it’s really obvious it’s Metro Hall. But even if you don’t, Chi-town has some pretty distinctive architecture, and this erstwhile city hall doesn’t fit—especially with the red and white CBC headquarters in the background.
You really can buy a Mercedes here, but don’t expect a whole song and dance.
So, the movie’s not so great. On the other hand, it is fun spotting the obvious Toronto sights. One of the cooler locations used is the Mercedes Benz Downtown dealership owned in the movie by Aretha Franklin. The scene is basically an exact repeat of the diner scene in the first film (minus Jake ordering four fried chickens and a Coke while Elwood requests some white toast), but this time it’s hard to miss the DVP in the background. The building really is a Mercedes dealership, located on Dundas, right at the highway. It opened in 1992 and has quite a lovely view.
The Hillcrest Motel is AAA approved, but John Popper does not actually live there.
Later on, the band runs into Blues Traveler at a motel, ostensibly outside Chicago. In reality the Hillcrest Motel is located on Lakeshore Boulevard, near the Ontario Food Terminal. Its website boasts that 95 films—everything from Existenz to a TV movie about Amy Fisher—have been filmed at the site, which has a cool, retro vibe
The Canary has flown the coop since its cameo in Blues Brothers 2000.
Speaking of retro vibes, the Canary Restaurant is one of the few locations that looks like it could actually be in Chicago. The classic ‘50s diner was located just east of the Distillery District, at Front and Cherry Streets, but sadly, it closed earlier this year, a victim of the otherwise-great West Donlands fix-up. With the nearby Bayview Extension closed due to construction, traffic simply dried up. The good news is that you can still relive the glory days at this tribute a kind citizen uploaded to YouTube.
Other scenes were also filmed in and around the Distillery area, and something about the cobblestone streets and narrow alleys makes it all seem very un-Toronto. Yup, it could almost look like Chicago. Almost.
You never know what you’ll find under the Gardiner. Perhaps a new Bluesmobile.
Chicago has several stacked roadways, including Wacker Drive, which is featured in the first Blues Brothers’ climax. It also has an elevated train running through downtown. The result is that Chicago often seems dark, even in the middle of the day. We guess it’s in reference to this unique atmosphere that they filmed several sequel scenes under the Gardiner Expressway. It may be a blight upon our urban landscape, but that doesn’t mean B.B. King can’t operate a used car lot there, for example.
From Another Road Side Attraction to rodeos and CGI horses, the Markham Fairgrounds has it all.
Blues Brothers 2000 makes the classic sequel mistake of trying to duplicate everything that made the first film great. Whether it’s using the same cameos or replicating the chase scenes, it never matches up. The only area in which the sequel matches—maybe even bettering—the first film is in the musical sequences.
In the first flick, the brothers are evading the dreaded Illinois Nazis (among others). Here it’s some kind of Confederate group (don’t ask). And just as they won over a country crowd with the theme from Rawhide in the first flick, they do the same here with a decent performance of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Anyone who has been there for a Tragically Hip show or, perhaps, a rodeo, may recognize the Markham Fairgrounds, located north of the city.
As the Ghost Riders of the song approach, the sky is filled with CGI clouds that become horses, but they couldn’t have done any of it without the beautiful reality of the 905.
Forget SARSstock, this is the greatest assemblage of musicians to ever hit Toronto. They just didn’t sell tickets.
There’s a good chance you haven’t watched enough of Blues Brothers 2000 to make it ‘til the end, but that’s probably the best part. Really, as bad as all the non-music parts of the movie are, there is not a single musical sequence that falls flat on its face.
The climax features a Battle of the Bands between our heroes and what may be one of the greatests bands ever put together. The Louisiana Gator Boys included Eric Clapton, BB King, Jimmy Vaughan, Ronnie Wood, Skunk Baxter, Isaac Hayes, Dr. John, Steve Winwood, Charlie Musselwhite, Joshua Redman, Clarence Clemons, Billy Preston etc. etc. all having a great time. The location, however, was neither an authentic bayou hangout, nor a Toronto club. It was just a soundstage, and we’re still jealous of every one of the extras who got to watch it.
It’s also worth mentioning that the bandleader is Paul Shaffer. Yeah, he’s from Thunder Bay, but he went to U of T and really began his career here. He was the creator of the original Blues Brothers Band back on SNL but didn’t get to appear with them on screen until this scene. For those who only know him as Letterman’s weird, bald sidekick, make no mistake: Shaffer is a legitimate musical talent.
In the end, what can we say about this flick?
Like, the first film set a record for most cars crashed in a movie so, this time out, they crashed even MORE cars: Objective proof that bigger is not always better.
We can definitely say that Toronto gets the award here for Worst Fake Chicago. Ever.
(Oh, and there’s also the fact that, despite the name, the movie came out in 1998…)
The first film still kicks ass, and Blues Brothers 2000 may not be the worst film of all time, but it’s basically a steaming pile of meh: a few great musical sequences, a few great shots of Toronto landmarks, and not much else.