Soul Men Directed by: Malcom D. Lee Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac Running Time: 1 hr 43 mins Rating: R
Plot: Two estranged and aging former soul singers, Louis and Floyd (Jackson and Mac), are forced to reunite after the death of their former band mate Marcus (real-life crooner John Legend) has his managers clawing for a "Real Deal" reunion tribute concert. It's up to Floyd to convince Louis to pull himself out of the dumpy L.A. apartment he calls home and make his way to New York City, where the tribute is set to take place.
Trouble starts soon after the two hit the road, and as they make their way from state to state --making stops along the way way to brush up on their rusty stagecraft and reunite with a young woman who may or may not be one of their daughters--they're forced to remember what they loved about the road and each other, and why they left both behind all those years ago.
Who’s It For? It's a decent comedy, but unlike most out there now it's definitely not tailored to teens. Soul Men works very well on the "I'm too old for this s**t" level and should appeal to a more mature audience.
Expectations: Because Mac, who died in August, makes one of his final film appearances here, it's a hope more than an expectation that the film will showcase his unique and ingenious comic stylings. It's a hope that goes largely fulfilled.
Actors: Samuel L. Jackson as Louis: Though his character starts off in a dingy apartment on the rough side of town, Jackson looks as comfortable here as he later does on a Memphis stage. He looks just as believable as a scruffy criminal as he does as a concerned parent or a college professor. The man is a chameleon. Here he's a cranky, pushy deadbeat dad who's only along for the ride to New York because of the $20K paycheck he hopes to get in return. He's unsavory, but Jackson makes him likable (as he does with most of his characters). Score: 6/10
Bernie Mac as Louis: Easily the highlight of the film, Mac's performance exemplifies how stand-up entertainers can successfully translate their own brand of comedy into character moments. Scenes with both Mac and Jackson negotiating the terms of Louis' involvement are particularly strong. Mac, most of whose roles were made up of smaller third-string characters throughout his career, was lucky to serve so successfully in a lead capacity before his death. Score: 8/10
Talking: It's funny listening to two older men--especially older enemies--talk to each other the way these two do. Louis and Floyd don't see eye to eye on much, and much of their interaction only confirms this. Some of the film's true highlights occur in the dialogue between the two former singers, especially in the lines Mac clearly improvised. Score: 7/10
Sights: Soul Men is largely a road trip movie, so much of it takes place out of car windows and onto vague rolling meadows and country towns. In this way it's a great lens into American scenery. It also spends a decent amount of time in Memphis, which is buzzing with energy and musical history. Score: 7/10
Sounds: What could be more important in a movie about soul than the soul itself? The music in Soul Men is smooth and satisfying, and proves both lead actors make great musicians in their own right. There's enough singing and dancing to entertain without boring audiences, which is a balance many heavily musical films can't seem to strike. Score: 7/10
Best Scene: One of the very best scenes of the film arrives toward the end, when having finally made it as fugitives to the Apollo the duo is forced to hide in the giant coffin occupied by their dead fellow, Marcus. Watching Mac try to strangle Legend's lifeless corpse was oddly funny, and extremely memorable.
Ending: There's nothing much original about Soul Men, so it isn't tough to imagine what happens at the end--a big, successful, only-in-the-movies comeback and the reunion of father and daughter. But it isn't the outcome that makes this film at least remotely enjoyable--it's the journey there.
Questions: Why on earth would they display Marcus' body for an audience to see at a concert? Why didn't the audience freak when they saw three people in it instead of just one? And on an unrelated note, whatever happens to Jennifer Coolidge's character? Does her jilted lover forgive her?
Rewatchability: Because music is such a heavy component to the film, I could easily see watching Soul Men more than once, if only to re-appreciate the sounds.
I can't imagine Bernie Mac, whose TV show was so successful during its tenure, would have preferred this mediocre story serving as one of his last, but it ultimately does what it sets out to do. It's about an unlikely comeback born from the loss of a friend, and how that comeback rekindled another frozen friendship, for better or worse. On paper, it works. But in reality, there's something missing from Soul Men that makes it feel a bit hollow and insubstantial. Besides its blatant sampling from other film's plot lines, the film succeeds at crafting a story we've all seen before---just in different places--and piecing it together in a new and re-imagined way. Though we apparently are supposed to have learned more about the characters by the end of the film, the truth is after a half hour of watching Jackson play another tough guy ... I felt miles away from Louis and only marginally closer to Floyd.
But ultimately, even despite its shortcomings, Soul Men is a delightful film that's enjoyable if not earth-shatteringly different, and it's a passable vehicle to post-harmoniously showcase Mac's talent as one of the America's most versatile and volatile comedians.
Final Score: 7/10