'Soul Men' can't stay in the groove

Bernie Mac (left) and Samuel L. Jackson play singers who are invited to reunite for a tribute concert, andthey travel cross-country by car to get to the show. The closing credits include a tribute to the late Mac.
Bernie Mac (left) and Samuel L. Jackson play singers who are invited to reunite for a tribute concert, andthey travel cross-country by car to get to the show. The closing credits include a tribute to the late Mac.
Posted: November 07, 2008

Like many comedies nowadays, Soul Men is a concept desperately in need of a movie.

It stars Samuel Jackson and the late Bernie Mac, in one of his final performances, as former backup singers to R&B legend Marcus Hooks (a nonspeaking role for singer John Legend).

When Hooks dies, Henderson (Mac) & Hinds (Jackson) are invited to reunite for a tribute concert at Harlem's Apollo Theater. The duo had one career distinction after Hooks went solo. As a record label flunky (Adam Herschman) marvels, they were "the only band to get to play three songs on Soul Train!"

The hook: the two men loathe each other. In other words, what you have here is a funky version of The Sunshine Boys - with more curses than a witches' coven. (Unless you can stomach a torrent of obscenities, you'd better skip this puppy.)

There's another obstacle: Hinds won't fly. (Wouldn't Henderson already be aware of that quirk?) So the two antagonists must endure a cross-country odyssey in Henderson's mint Cadillac Eldorado convertible. The uneasy riders scratch and claw at each other the entire journey.

It's a promising premise, but the plot grows increasingly feeble with each passing minute. The film bogs down completely in a sentimental midsection when the men invite a young lady (Sharon Leal of Dreamgirls) to travel with them.

The score is tasty with R&B classics from Earth Wind & Fire, McFadden & Whitehead, and others. But the onstage duets of Mac and Jackson (for some reason, director Malcolm Lee elected to use their real voices) are grating.

Soul Men's timeline doesn't work; Henderson's arthritic hip magically disappears; and the skin scenes are Borat raunchy.

Coincidentally, Borat's Ken Davitian has a cameo, as does soul star Isaac Hayes, who eerily passed away the day after Mac died this summer.

So why is this film worth seeing? Because it's an ideal showcase for Mac's peerless comic chops. Though he looks sickly and drawn on the screen, Mac pulled an energetic, often-inspired performance out of himself.

Jackson gets by mostly on bluster, but that doesn't matter because he serves mostly as a foil to Mac's popeyed shake-and-bake antics.

Both of them are undone by a cliched, feel-good climax during which the duo have to be redeemed from their respective character flaws.

If you can sit through that, stick around for the closing credits, because they include a sweet eulogy to Mac's raucous genius.


Soul Men **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Malcolm Lee. With Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Leal. Distributed by MGM.

Running time: 1 hour, 43 mins.

Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, pervasive language)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand

at dhiltbrand@ phillynews.com or 215-854-4552. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/daveondemand.

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