Frankly, I was not expecting much from this film. If I were to judge the film based solely on the trailer it looked like another stupid comedy with little to offer (much like Role Models). I am sure you are wondering why I went to see it. The answer is a simple one. Samuel L. Jackson is a great screen presence; whether in something dramatic like Resurrecting the Champ, ridiculous like Snakes on a Plane, or genre-related like the Star Wars prequels, he always delivers something watchable. Yes, there is another reason, that being his partner in crime, the late Bernie Mac. Simply put, these guys are hilarious together. Despite the familiarity of the tale and unevenness of the plotting this is a movie that will have you laughing too hard to care.
One film sprang almost immediately to mind as I watched Soul Men unfold before me — that film is The Blues Brothers. No, they are not exactly the same, but they both involve music, recently reunited partners, and a journey during which many issues arise, both personal and professional. This is to take nothing away from the classic nature of the 1980 John Landis film, as Soul Men really does not come close to the timelessness of that journey, but the similarities are there.
Soul Men concerns a mega-popular R&B group of the 1960s and 1970s, Marcus Hooks and The Real Deal. These three men were on top of the world until Marcus (John Legend) chose to go it alone. Hooks became a legendary, award-winning artist while The Real Deal, Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac) and Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson), floundered as a duo, quickly breaking up due to personal and professional issues.
The story proper picks up in the present day. Marcus Hooks has died and the trio's old label is staging a memorial concert and wants The Real Deal to perform. Of course, this would require Floyd and Louis to get back together, which is not going to be easy. Floyd is the easy one to get on board, as he is bored living in a retirement community. Floyd heads over to Louis' place, where he finds him living in a small, dirty apartment and very unwilling to get back on the stage. However, mention money and he is all over it. Off the two go on a cross-country drive to perform on the legendary Apollo stage.
The journey brings up all manner of old, lingering scabs that are incessantly picked at throughout. Performance issues, the truth behind Louis sleeping with Floyd's wife, their mutual dislike for Marcus, not to mention new issues like gun safety and the "velveteen rub." If nothing else, these two know how to push each other's buttons, making this journey a little more then either of them have bargained for. Then there is the case of meeting the daughter of their old flame. The young woman's name is Cleo (Sharon Leal) and she brings some much needed heart to the journey.
Their trip to New York City is a rather straightforward affair, although the plot has a few elements that don't work all that well. One is Cleo's gangsta boyfriend who doesn't let an embarrassing moment with The Real Deal go; he is a goofy character who hams it up more than is needed. There is also a clumsy jailbreak that feels out of place. I understand the purpose it fills for the film but I feel there must have been a better way of dealing with it. Finally we have Philip (Adam Herschman), the fanboy assistant sent by the record label head (played by Sean Hayes) to help the two make the show on time.
Now, would you like to know the best part of the movie? I mentioned it in the opening. Whoever thought to put Mac and Jackson together is brilliant. These two work brilliantly with each, exhibiting impressive chemistry. This also makes the whole thing a little sad, knowing that Bernie Mac has passed away. He exhibits such life here; his charisma almost leaps right off the screen. I have not seen all of his films, but his performance here shows him at his most comfortable, as if the leash has been cut and he was free to go as far as he wanted in creating Floyd.
Back to Mac and Jackson, these guys are comedy gold. Profanity flows off their lips like poetry. Samuel L. Jackson's prowess with the f-bomb is legendary; combine his skills with Mac's and it is like learning the word for the first time. The insults and exclamations they hurl about will make you laugh and laugh some more. At the same time the profanity never overtakes the genuine feelings that develop over their journey. No, this is not an original film, but it will get through to you and draw you in.
As the credits roll, make sure not to leave. There is a lengthy tribute to Bernie Mac with outtakes of him entertaining on the set and being interviewed, presumably for DVD material. He is revealed to be a consummate professional, perpetually happy, and always performing to the best that his abilities allow. I would have loved to see what else he would have been able to do were he still alive (he does have one more film coming next year, Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams). There is also a smaller tribute to Isaac Hayes who has a supporting role in the film and died shortly after Bernie.
Bottom line. No, not original and far from perfect but it doesn't matter. This is one laugh-out-loud funny movie that had me in stitches. There is a certain sadness watching Bernie, but I am sure he would rather be remembered for the laughter he has given so many, so set the somber feelings aside and enjoy the ride.Powered by Sidelines