Soul Men is a comedy tinged with sadness which, in a way, makes you feel obliged to enjoy it. Sadly, this doesn’t guarantee that you actually will.
I don’t mean the film itself is sad, of course. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Soul Men, is an unsubtle comedy right from the start. Its script is so desperate for laughs that it’s prepared to shamelessly rehash all sort of comedy clichés, so there’s no chance of you missing the point.
The tragedy comes from the fact that this was Bernie Mac‘s penultimate appearance on film, before sadly dying of pneumonia before the movie’s release. An original and talented comedian, Mac’s career spanned nearly two decades: he was certainly funny. Fans of his work will be keen to see this film, released just three months after his death, and determined, I imagine, to like it.
Now, I’m no Bernie Mac expert, but I’m willing to bet that Soul Men isn’t his most impressive achievement. His performance is easy to watch, and he does his best with a script written by Matthew Stone and Rob Ramsey, which balances precariously upon stereotype-based humour. He also appears well suited to his role of a retired soul singer who, after years out of the spotlight, is keen to reunite with his singing partner in a tribute concert for their former lead singer, who has recently passed away.
Said partner is played by none other Samuel L. Jackson – who provides yet further rationale for thinking that this film might have been, well, better. But in this case, the critically acclaimed actor seems more than happy to slip into an familiar buddy-movie pairing, playing the reluctant half of the singing duo, whose fear of flying necessitates the film’s road trip.
In fact, the road trip aspect proves to be one of this films more endearing qualities. It might be a tried and tested formula, but that doesn’t mean it’s broke and Soul Men is all the better for using it.
The pair travel from L.A. to New York, giving us the opportunity to indulge in nostalgic flashbacks to their days as a successful soul group – not unpleasant, as trips down memory lane go. There’s also the potential for a few heartfelt moments as Mac’s character is reunited with his daughter, played by Dreamgirls‘ Sharon Leal. Or is is Jackson’s daughter? It all gets very confusing, but don’t panic, you can basically get the gist of it from watching the trailer.
In any case, the revival of all these relationships, for which we should supposedly be rooting, is somewhat tarnished by the misjudged sex scenes which repeatedly seem to confuse ‘crude’ for ‘comic’. Oh and the daughter, whoever her father might be, is overshadowed by her obnoxious boyfriend who takes up far too much of everyone’s time.
This film is saved, or at least thrown a lifeline, by it’s musical endeavours. The soundtrack is thoroughly enjoyable, as are the on-screen musical performances from Mac and Jackson. Original Soul Man, Isaac Hayes also makes a few stirring appearances in what was to also be his last movie role, as he passed away the day after Mac. Soul Men was reported to have been heavily re-edited in an attempt to soften its tone, as tribute to the two actors. Who knows what we might have seen in the original.