Most people in the press are saying that Bernie Mac’s last film is a sad last act for the critically-acclaimed and beloved star. But if anyone knows about folks from Chicago, they couldn’t care less about what you say and more about what they feel. The Southside hometown hero made good with Samuel L. Jackson in Soul Men.
Movie director, Malcolm D. Lee, has had a good run of comedies. From The Best Man to Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, the other star from the Lee family tree has a funny bone unlike his military-minded cousin. After accepting a script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, Soul Men offered a promising rundown in how-to comedy with a hilarious tale of two back-up singers – played by Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac. The duo are forced out of retirement when word breaks that their lead singer – in a movie first played by John Legend – passes away.
After decades of inactivity, the duo fall out over a woman and fall on hard times in their own individual ways. Floyd (Mac) is unfulfilled in his retirement after running a successful car wash and Louis (Jackson) has hit upon hard times – serving time and living in a piss-poor manor. The opportunity to reunite and celebrate their musical legacy at the famed Apollo Theater already lays down the groundwork for a pretty good comedy plot, but the road to the promise land was paved with a few holes.
But before they hit the bumps, a series of happenstance from Arizona to Oklahoma find our two pals with plenty of time to argue, bust a few shots, relive some past issues and even meet with the daughter of the guy’s former wife – Cleo. Sharon Leal does an excellent job of showcasing vulnerability under the abusive tone of boyfriend and wannabe rapper – Lester (Affion Crockett).
A lot of improvisation went into this work and when you have two aggressively funny cats like Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson – the results can be hilariously outrageous or fall flat on its face. A part that audiences will enjoy was Bernie’s romp with a cougar-ish groupie who wants to give him a ‘velveteen rub.’ But on the flip side of the coin, a joke like Sam and Bernie having to share a bed together was kind of unnecessary fodder to help move a lagging film along.
The raunchiness marked a return to prominence for Bernie Mac. After some would say that he was diluted after appearing on his own television show and Ocean’s Thirteen, the Chicago comedian showcased that he never lost a step and the outtakes once the credit roll marked just how great a funny-man Bernie was. With his lost and Isaac Hayes passing the following day, it makes Soul Men a holistic tribute to the Stax era.
As the duo sing their own songs, dance the routines, the era of the 70s soul groups are celebrated and never overly garish. Jackson and Mac do excellent jobs of complimenting one another and with a colorful array of co-stars, the focus never leaves the headliners and allows the back-ups to get equal billing with a solo or two. After the passing of the entertainment industries giants, Soul Men is fitting tribute to how hard work and staying true to one’s craft will have lasting life after death.