Malcolm D. Lee’s Soul Men is a monument to the difference that on-screen talent can make for a movie. For all intents and purposes, Soul Men is a humdrum, forgettable R-rated comedy that’s yanked up to the ranks of entertainingly mediocre simply by the undeniable magnetism of leads Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac.
This is really no surprise, since both Jackson and Mac have made careers out of being in more garbage than Oscar the Grouch, while often managing to be the most memorable parts of the aforementioned junk. There is a reason, after all, that Jackson being eaten by a shark in Deep Blue Sea is still inexplicably ingrained in our pulp-culture lexicon.
The plot itself provides a sturdy enough foundation. Jackson and Mac play Louis and Floyd, a couple of washed-up, estranged backup singers who grabbed some acclaim while a part of the soul group Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal. But it seems after their early success, front man Marcus (musician John Legend) left the group to pursue a lucrative solo career, leaving Louis and Floyd to slowly fade into obscurity, with the former living in a slum after a string of arrests and the latter now banished to a retirement village after successfully running a car-wash chain for years. But after Marcus passes away in Sweden and a tribute concert is scheduled at the Apollo, Louis and Floyd decide to begrudgingly bury the hatchet and make the cross-country drive for one last shot at glory. Of course, nothing goes as planned and personal discoveries are personally discovered, with the end result being an amalgam of Grumpy Old Men (1993) and The Blues Brothers (1980).
Unfortunately, the laughs never quite materialize within the film’s generic auspices of being yet another erstwhile road-trip flick. For every funny bit, there’s a second-rate Viagra joke or the appearance of the pointless—and often groan-worthy—dorky white guy (Adam Herschman, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), which is just enough to leave a bad taste.
Members of the cast—aside from the two leads and Sharon Leal (This Christmas)—are superfluous, overused or just plain old bad. The vast majority of the film is Jackson and Mac swearing at one another. And aside from R. Lee Ermey, there really isn’t anyone else in Hollywood who can deliver the old f-bomb with more delightful precision than these two, and do it with such conviction and chutzpah. But aside from the guilty pleasure of this and one fairly cleverly plotted twist created from another much more histrionic twist, the movie is mostly forgettable tripe with run-of-the-mill musical performances dropped in here and there. The movie, while refreshingly R rated, generally ends up exactly where the audience expects it to.
The film’s biggest draw is the opportunity to see Mac and Isaac Hayes—who has a small role in the film—on-screen, since they both recently passed away. Thankfully, the movie isn’t as embarrassing a last film as, say, Street Fighter (1994) was for Raul Julia. At the same time, it’s more than a bit regrettable that this is the only reason anyone will likely ever remember Soul Men. Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content, including nudity.