The movie's first five minutes are excellent, revealing (through realistic archival footage) the story of Marcus Hooks (John Legend) and his backing singers Floyd Henderson and Louis Hinds, known as Real Deal. We meet Real Deal as they perform a Smokey Robinson-esque version of "I'm your Puppet," then track lead singer Hooks as he goes solo leaving Henderson and Hinds behind. Years pass, Hooks dies and his media-sponsored memorial creates the possibility for a reunion show. Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson) is an ex-con working in an auto body shop and Henderson (Bernie Mac) hawks a local car wash on TV. Confronted with the chance to come out of "retirement" for the funeral show at the Apollo, they decide to take a road trip across country in their old El Dorado convertible. Unbeknownst to Hinds, Henderson booked some warm-up gigs along the road, providing new highs and lows at each venue. There are some really funny lines, generally involving "Motherf@#!%!" this and "Nig@#$" that. Plot wise, though, it's about as conventional as it gets.
The interaction between the two leads is solid. Jackson is good in schlock and he spins his performance as a tough guy/sensitive dude trying to be Zen-like about life. Bernie Mac is totally convincing as an over-the-hill codger with a ton of problems, showing some vulnerability while conveying some dramatic overtones to his usual comedic acting. This is strictly a by-the-numbers piece from all the actors with the exception of Adam Herschman as "Phil," the biggest geek on the planet and their biggest fan. This part was poorly written and poorly delivered; I still have no idea why he was in this movie.
At times Soul Men resembles The Blues Brothers, but mainly takes its place in line with "guys-constantly-arguing" movies, like Grumpier Old Men, Ishtar, and Play it to the Bone. The crux of Jackson and Mac's fighting is the loss of the same woman and the debate over who's the father to her daughter, Cleo (Sharon Leal). There are two gratuitous sex scenes for Henderson, both involving old age, Viagra and boner jokes. One scene features the '80s porn star Vanessa del Rio as a horny neighbor. (del Rio doesn't have any lines and doesn't need any.) The other is with a toothless Jennifer Coolidge (Best in Show) and involves tasteless denture jokes. There's also a blatant stereotypical bad-guy-loser Lester (Affion Crockett) who could've destroyed the movie, but Crockett kept a demented hold on the character, choosing instead to have some fun with the role. And that's the point; Soul Men could've easily gone the way of the horrid, but it seemed that everyone was having just the right amount of fun to make it work. The music was passable and the cast did the singing themselves.
Still, this road trip flick with all its adventures, mishaps and touching moments could have been easily forgotten if wasn't for the chemistry between Jackson and Bernie Mac. Ultimately, Mac's life-affirming last performance is its saving grace.Soul Men ★★✩✩
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Bernie Mac, Sharon Leal, Isaac Hayes. Directed by Malcolm D Lee. Rated R.