Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Soul Men
Starring Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone. Rated R.
Same Old Song

Soul Men bids an inadvertent farewell to a funny man.


I spent much of my time watching Soul Men trying to figure out if it was working its charms on me only because one of its stars, Bernie Mac, died of pneumonia this past August at the absurdly young age of 50. In the end, I decided that trying to disentangle those issues wasnít worth the trouble. Now that Mac has been taken from us too soon, this otherwise inoffensive and disposable comedy is a chance to see this funny man give a performance full of life.
Mac and Samuel L. Jackson star in this movie as Floyd Henderson and Louis Hines, the two backup singers in a 1970s R&B act called Marcus Hooks & The Real Deal. Decades after Marcus (played in flashbacks by John Legend) cuts them loose to pursue a monster solo career, Floyd and Louis are reunited by the news of Marcusí death and a promised paying gig performing together at his funeral in Detroit, along with a number of other soul-music stars. Louis refuses to fly, so these two cranky old guys drive from southern California to Michigan via Memphis, bickering with each other for much of the way.
The road-trip element of this comedy is a cagey method of having the two perform a series of gigs at little clubs on their route, Floyd figuring that he and Louis need to polish their stage act since they havenít performed live in almost 30 years. Mac and Jackson do their own singing in these numbers, and while neither of them can really carry a tune, they do a pretty fair job of faking it. The filmís musical talent is augmented considerably by Dreamgirlsí Sharon Leal as Cleo, the daughter of a now-deceased woman with whom both Louis and Floyd were romantically involved.
Unfortunately, the subplot in which Louis and Floyd pick up Cleo and take her on the road with them is just the most obvious example of the padding in this comedy. The two menís daddy issues are dealt with routinely, and thereís a tiresome running gag wherein the guys are harassed by Cleoís abusive boyfriend (the genuinely scary-looking Affion Crockett). With the two leads playing most of their scenes at full volume, itís no wonder the movieís most memorable moment is a quiet one, when a flat tire maroons Louis and Floyd in the desert. The two of them hear one of their old hits play over the radio and perform the dance steps that they used to do onstage for that song.
Soul Men becomes genuinely moving during the end credits, which feature a montage that pays tribute to Bernie Mac. The manís work is probably better represented by Mr. 3000, The Original Kings of Comedy, and the first few seasons of The Bernie Mac Show, but this sequence has a firm grasp on the essential decency and humility that always showed through this comedianís foul-mouthed bluster. In this same segment, the movie also gives acknowledgment to the late Isaac Hayes, who has a cameo in the movie as himself. Rest in peace, gentlemen. You made our world a cooler and funkier place.

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