Soul Men
You don’t find threads like that on the rack.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/07/2008
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Cast: Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Leal, Sean Hayes, Affion Crockett, Adam Herschman, John Legend, Isaac Hayes

Every year, the cycle of life claims at least a few notable Hollywood entertainers. Off the top of my head, in 2008, there’s the great Paul Newman, Anthony Minghella, Michael Crichton and, most relevant to this review, Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.

Their last appearance in a live action film comes with the release of “Soul Men” (Mac provides a voice in “Madagascar 2″) – a film about two aging R&B singers (Mac and Samuel L. Jackson) who reunite due to the death of the lead singer of their group (John Legend) from back in the day.

The film boasts cameos and supporting roles from the likes of Sharon Leal, Isaac Hayes, Sean Hayes, Adam Herschman, Mike Epps and Jennifer Coolidge. All of them help to weave a comedic web around the project, which at its core is a message about understanding what’s important in life and holding onto family and friends.

It’s important to note that Jackson and Mac do much of, if not all of their own singing and dancing (there are some odd close-ups of feet during some of the dance steps that feel like cheats). The songs, mostly taken from the Stax Records catalog (the closing performance by the duo was written by Gnarls Barkley), are all great fun and full of that wonderful R&B sound from the 60s and 70s.

Perhaps the most fun moments of the film are seeing the retrospectives on the group; seeing how they change throughout the decades. If there’s one thing that will always hold true for comedy, it’s dressing up people for different eras in the most stereotypical fashion. (My particular favorite moment was seeing John Legend as a Prince knock-off).

Jackson and Mac have a wonderful chemistry, born of a real-life friendship, that shines on-screen. Jackson’s more surly demeanor is a great counterpoint to Mac’s over-the-top showmanship and bravado. The film is mostly a road trip of the two as they head to the tribute concert of their former band mate and I think a documentary of them actually driving across the states would have been just as, if not more, fun that this finished product.

Helping to frame everything in a mildly absurdist light is director Malcolm D. Lee (Spike’s cousin if you were wondering) – who previously had helmed “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins” and a personal favorite of mine, “Undercover Brother”. Much of the story deals with very odd and outlandish people who are either trying to help or hinder the duo on their quest to get to New York and sing at the famed Apollo theater. Lee’s ability to mix in the screwball nature of things while at the same time pulling on some all too real heartstrings is a welcome pleasure.

Now, I’m not saying that this film is the funniest I’ve seen all year or that there aren’t many average moments that make it hard to recommend plunking down $89 to see it on the big screen. However, due to the passing of Mac and Isaac Hayes, I won’t deny that there was a little something more to seeing the film. (Even though an earlier stroke had limited Hayes, which is noticeable on-screen, it was just nice to see him one more time.)

Fans of either of them will surely want to take in “Soul Men” and I’m going to award it a 3 out of 5. I’ll be honest and say that I’d be less kind to it had tragedy not befallen the cast but even so, it was funny and I enjoyed it – regardless of how respectful one should be to those who have passed on. (The film is deserving of a 3 out of 5, I just might have pointed out a few more negative aspects.) While running out to the theater may not be completely necessary, this is worth a look on DVD or when it hits the cable channels.

And please make sure to sit through the credits as perhaps summing up the bittersweet element of the project best is the featurette on Mac played once the film ends. It shows some behind the scenes footage and includes some of the cast and crew talking about how thankful they were to have known and worked with him. There’s also a quick segment on Hayes and the credits close with his song, “Never Can Say Goodbye”.