The funniest bit in the crude but diverting "Soul Men" really makes you miss Bernie Mac, who died in August,
a few months after completing the picture.
Bernie Mac plays one half of the Real Deal, a Pips-like backup duo for a charismatic lead singer (John
Legend) who eventually went solo, leaving his former partners to languish.
We're prepped by a brisk prologue and then, present day: Mac's character, Floyd, is being put out to suburban, highly manicured pasture by his
nephew-manager, while Samuel L. Jackson's Louis ekes out a life in what looks like an SRO apartment.
When their former cohort dies, VH1 announces a tribute concert to be held on the other side of the country, at the
Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Floyd wants to do it in the worst way, but he must persuade Louis to bury their long-held
grudge (they loved the same woman, who left a daughter behind, now grown).
The standout bit in this fractious, formulaic comedy is simplicity itself.
Bam, Jackson slams his apartment door on Mac, and Mac's left muttering by his lonesome out in a dingy hallway. The
camera stays put while Mac -- improvising, no doubt, and fruitfully -- argues with his ex-partner as though he were
still within earshot. It's not much, but the laughs build and you realize that Mac is pulling them out of some unseen
Too much of "Soul Men" relies on violent, bone-crunching slapstick and Viagra jokes, and Jennifer Coolidge taking out her
false teeth before jumping Mac's bones. It's basically a road movie, with Louis and Floyd driving and arguing and
reconciling and arguing cross-country, performing practice gigs along the way. The music certainly helps, and even
though the stars don't do all their own dancing, the vocals, apparently, are theirs. And they're fun. They're having
fun, and the fun translates when the script loosens its straps. Mac and Jackson transcend this hopped-up version of
"The Sunshine Boys," this "Grumpy Old Soul Men," and when Mac lets loose with that fantastic little laugh of his --
the one that sounds like an electric mower starting up -- you forget all the junk.
The pluses also include Sharon Leal, lately seen in "Dreamgirls," as Cleo, the Tulsa daughter of the guys' uneasily
shared ex. Cleo's abusive, drug-dealing, hip-hop wannabe lover is played by Affion Crockett, in a very broad style,
halfway to egregious stereotype. The director, Malcolm D. Lee, has done fizzier work in the past, at least in the
underrated comedy "Roll Bounce," but despite some of the cruddiest lighting since "What Happens in Vegas" (shot by
the same cinematographer, Matthew Leonetti), the movie bumps along, and by the time it gets to the (fake) Apollo for
the big concert, you're sort of with it. An unexpectedly good scene arrives very late, involving Mac, Jackson and the
deceased tribute honoree, and the end credits are devoted to a tribute to Mac, complete with interview footage, along
with an ancillary tribute to Isaac Hayes, who takes a supporting role as himself in "Soul Men." Hayes died one day
after Mac did, in August. They deserved a terrific send-off, and this one's only fair, but it has its low-down
wiles and its moments.
MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity).
Running time: 1:43.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Louis); Bernie Mac (Floyd); Sharon Leal (Cleo); Sean Hayes (Danny); Adam Herschman (Phillip); Affion Crockett (Lester); Jennifer Coolidge (Rosalee).
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee; written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone; photographed by Matthew Leonetti; edited by Paul Millspaugh and Bill Henry; music by Stanley Clarke; production design by Richard Hoover; produced by David T. Friendly, Charles Castaldi and Steve Greener. A Dimension Films and MGM release.
Soul Men Movie Review Film Critic Michael Phillips Reviews the Movie Soul Men Soul Men Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac, Sharon Leal, Sean Hayes, Adam Herschman, Affion Crockett, Jennifer Coolidge
Soul Men Movie Review, Movie Trailer, Movie Production Notes, Synopsis, About the Movie, About the Cast