DVD Review: “Soul Men”

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soul-menIf I’m going to remain true to the movie, then the only way to describe Soul Men is to call it one motherfucking funny film.  If that statement in any way offends you, you shouldn’t watch Soul Men, because Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson use that phrase — and other colorful language — freely in their very R-rated buddy film.  But it’s funny…man, is it funny.  This was Mac’s final film before his death last year, and he went out on top.

Mac and Jackson star as Louis Hinds and Floyd Henderson, a couple of ’60s backup singers in a Miracles-type group called Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal. Their Smokey Robinson-esque lead singer, Marcus Hooks, is played by John Legend (who continues to impress me with his willingness to poke fun at his cool image).  As the opening prologue explains, the group stays together through the late ’70s, until Hooks breaks up them up to embark on a solo career.  Hinds and Henderson go on to record one album as a duo before something comes between them and they split up for good.  Floyd winds up in jail and Louis becomes a used car salesman.  Twenty years later, Floyd is retired, living in a gated community and popping Viagra to get it up for his randy neighbors, while Floyd is working as a mechanic.  The news of Hooks’ sudden death causes Louis to try and bury the hatchet so that the Real Deal can stage a memorial concert at the Apollo Theater.

And what came between the two men was what? A woman, of course; their former backup singer, to be exact.  She was Floyd’s girl, but Louis wound up marrying her.  Floyd wants nothing to do with his old friend and he sure as hell wants nothing to do with paying tribute to Hooks.  Still, Louis won’t relent and convinces Floyd that there is money to be had by appearing at the concert.  The two men embark on a cross-country trip from L.A. to Detroit, making stops in small towns to rehearse in crummy dive bars and country joints.   Along the way they pick up Cleo (Sharon Leal), the daughter of Floyd’s ex-wife (and possibly his daughter).  She accompanies them to Memphis and then Detroit, along the way proving that she inherited her mom’s gift for singing.

Okay, look, the plot isn’t very original, and the script seems to jump ahead at some spots, causing you to go, “huh?”  Soul Men is a road movie, so I’m not sure which parts of this haven’t already been covered to death since Hope and Crosby did their road movies back in the ’40s and ’50s.  But the point of this movie was to get Mac and Jackson side by side so they could work off of each other like Abbot and Costello (Director Malcolm D. Lee’s words, not mine), with Jackson playing the straight man perfectly and Mac taking up the role of the bumbling goof.  The two men were good friends before the film, and that personal comfort comes through in their performances.  The on-screen chemistry between Mac and Jackson in Soul Men is comparable to that of the comedy legends already mentioned, as well as such modern duos as Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson or Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.  When watching the film, I had to stop myself from laughing too loud for fear of waking the house.

Another reason to check out the film is the great music.  If you’re a fan of ’60s-style soul, then you’ll be impressed with the way Soul Men pays tribute to the Stax and Motown sounds.  Mac and Jackson both sing their own songs, bringing an authenticity to the movie that is lacking in so many biopics in which the stars are lip-syncing.  And they’re good singers, too.  Check out this free download from the Soul Men website entitled “A Walk In The Park.”

Surrounding Jackson and Mac is a stellar supporting cast, including Sean Hayes as a wormy music exec, Affion Crockett as a wannabe rap gangster and the hilarious Adam Herschman as Phillip, the music intern assigned to accompany Louis and Floyd to Detroit.  There are also cameos by the always funny Jennifer Coolidge, Mike Epps, and the late Isaac Hayes, who died just one day after Mac.  Soul Men may not be the most groundbreaking movie, but the chemistry between Jackson and Mac was the Real Deal.  It’s a shame that the two of them won’t be working together ever again.

The DVD comes with commentary by director Lee, fitting tributes to both Mac and Hayes, as well as a great little featurette about how the movie came together and what the making of it meant to everyone involved.

Soul Men is available through Amazon.

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