John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as two white boys who love nuns, blacks, and the blues. But for all of the dramatic focus on poverty, the subject of John Landis‘s mise-en-scene is money—making it, spending it, blowing it away. The humor is predicated on underplaying in overscaled situations, which is sporadically funny in a Keaton-esque way but soon sputters out through sheer, uninspired repetition. With Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Cab Calloway, and Aretha Franklin, who steals the show singing a song in a diner.
Steven Spielberg’s 1984 sequel is quite a bit better than Raiders of the Lost Ark: the pacing is much more assured and effective (there are actual peaks and valleys in the action) and the situations are more imaginative and varied. Spielberg has developed the spatial contrasts of his visual style (particularly his trick of lighting his backgrounds more brightly than his foregrounds), creating a seductively dimensional look that at moments suggests Raoul Walsh. Yet the blunt Freudian images of George Lucas’s story (the film is a male birth fantasy in which the hero must deliver a tribe of children from slavery in a dark, damp mine shaft) and the relentlessly juvenile focus of Spielberg’s mise-en-scene come to seem oppressive and pandering; the film betrays no human impulse higher than that of a ten-year-old boy trying to gross out his baby sister by dangling a dead worm in her face. With Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw. PG, 118 min.