Soul Men spins an erratic tune
Obviously, no one expected Malcolm Lee’s Soul Men to be Bernie Mac’s swan song, and while there are far worse ways to be remembered, this amiable feature is far from the comedian’s finest hour. The film’s an odd mixture of elements, as its crudity undercuts the sincerity its two stars invest in this tale of friendship while also serving as a tribute to the soul sound of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s an entertaining concoction at times, thanks to the chemistry of Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, who deserve far better than what this patchy script has to offer.
The death of music legend Marcus Hooks (John Legend) suddenly puts his former backup singers, The Real Deal, back in the spotlight. While Floyd (Mac) welcomes the opportunity to escapes his suffocating retirement, his former partner Louis (Jackson) is less than thrilled by the attention. However, the promise of a big paycheck at a tribute concert for Hooks in New York City convinces the curmudgeons to head cross country on a road trip, replete with many adventures, among them being reunited with Cleo (Sharon Leal), who may be a daughter to one of them.
Jackson and Mac are troupers throughout, making this mundane material bearable thanks to their antagonistic give and take which is grounded in mutual respect. When these two are on the screen alone, the film is genuinely entertaining and interesting. It’s when the supporting cast wants to horn in on their act that the film jumps the tracks, as writers Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone rely on tired stereotypes, tasteless gags and ridiculous circumstances to pad their script. A touching tribute at film’s end features documentary footage showing Mac speaking of his joy in performing, a quality that’s evident in Soul Men. He will be missed, albeit because of far better films than this.