November 13, 2008

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Soul Men (R)
Bernie Mac turns in one of his final performances in Soul Men, a comedy about two former soul stars who attempt to reunite for one last show at the Apollo.

The movie starts with the death of a fictional soul star, the reason that the Real Deal, a band featuring Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac) and Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson) are asked to reunite at a memorial show. But what makes the movie truly poignant is the presence of Mac and, in a cameo role, Isaac Hayes, both of whom died in August of this year. I don’t usually start off a review of a movie talking about the end of a movie but stick around for the credits of Soul Men, credits that might actually be the best reason to see the movie. Mac talks about the importance of performing and we see clips of him doing comedy bits in front of an audience gathered for the scenes set at the movie’s culminating show. It’s the sort of material you usually find buried somewhere in a DVD’s extras, but presented here it provided a fitting memorial to Mac, who hasn’t been as much in the public eye since the end of the TV show.

But back to the movie.

The Real Deal broke up in the 1970s. Since then, Floyd has parlayed his fame into a successful car wash business, which he gave to his nephew when he moved to an active adult community. Louis has had a less successful career of petty crime and currently lives in a dumpy apartment on the wrong side of town. When Danny (Sean Hayes), son of the Real Deal’s former management, calls up Floyd to do the show honoring their one-time front man Marcus Hooks (John Legend), Floyd is eager to escape retirement and work on a show that he hopes will lead to a comeback. Louis is eager to not spend any time with Floyd. By convincing Louis that there’s a big pile of cash in it for him, Floyd is able to coax his former partner on the road (Louis hates to fly) for a cross-country trip. Along the way, they pick up Cleo (Sharon Leal), the daughter of their former backup singer. Her birth date gets Floyd thinking the trip may yield more than just a new chance at a music career but a new daughter as well.

Soul Men is not the best of Mac’s humor — I’d argue that that was his sharp, class-conscious sitcom. But it’s at least as fun as the kind of grumpy buddy humor of The Bucket List and movies of that ilk, the difference being that Mac and Jackson are both more appealing in these characters which are really just super-sized versions of their standard on-screen personas. More often than not, the jokes don’t work because they’re fantastically funny, they work because they’re delivered well by Jackson and Mac. B-

Rated R for pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity. Directed Malcolm D. Lee and written by Robert Ramsey Matthew Stone, Soul Men is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed in wide release by MGM.