Take the recent influx of real life musician’s bio-pic stories and mix in a healthy dose of comedy and you get Walk Hard. Take Walk Hard, add in Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac and return the musician bio-pic back to reality and you get Soul Men. A relative dud at the box office, Soul Men would ultimately be the final film for the late Isaac Hayes and Bernie Mac; although it didn’t receive the greatest of critical praise, those who saw it can safely say that while the film itself may not have been the best, it certainly had Mac channeling one of his greatest performances, along with Hayes who played his usual cool self.
Sameuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac are estranged soul singers Louis and Floyd in this hilarious road-trip comedy. Out of shape and out of practice, the duo sets off on a cross country journey to perform a tribute concert at the legendary Apollo Theater – settling their 25-year-old grudge along the way. Also starring Sharon Leal, Isaac Hayes and Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend, Soul Men is sure to serve up “Generous doses of humor and sweet soul music” (Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter) you’re sure to enjoy.
As generic of a story as this film was, I won’t deny that it wasn’t entertaining. The characters fit their stereotypical roles to a T and absolutely nothing about the film felt original. Warring musicians who are still arguing about who slept with each other’s wife while they begrudgingly go to perform “one last time” at their former friends funeral. It’s a typical road-trip style comedy with antics along the way such as flat tires, prostitutes, and running from the cops, only instead of John Travolta and Tim Allen hamming it up, you have Jackson and Mac stealing the show.
The duo definitely have great chemistry with one another and it’s a shame we’ll never see them together again; both in terms of acting and in terms of the vocal performances they have, the film really came together in more ways than one. Of course it also fell apart in a few ways as well, which I’ll get to in a bit, but for the most part any shortcomings this film had never once stemmed from its leads. Which his actually kind of depressing, as if they’d simply focused more on the secondary characters, it may not have been such a hammed up effort when all was said and done.
So what detracted from the film? Mainly the side plot with Louis (Jackson) and his daughter. While it starts off innocently enough, Lester (Affion Crockett) and his crew single handedly made this film highly annoying. They served no purpose whatsoever and had they not been shoehorned into the story in an attempt to show how younglings’ disrespect their elders (and then subsequently have Samuel L. Jackson beat their ass), then the film would have honestly fared much better. There was also the odd role of Philip (Adam Herschman), which, while entertaining, also seemed to have little purpose.
Had the film focused entirely on the strengths of Jackson, Mac and Sharon Leal (playing Louis’s daughter Cleo), then the film would have been all the better for it. Of course Cleo’s quick aversion to stage performance between scenes is also incredibly off, but I guess after she spent a night with Isaac Hayes, the butterflies simply disappeared. Sadly, however, these small elements really made what would otherwise be a soulful, heartwarming and genuinely entertaining film about two former friends/rivals who came together one last time.
I feel I should also mention the music in the film, as it is really quite well done. Aside from the first performance in the film with Mac and Jackson in a near-empty bar, the other performances were all up-beat, lively and non-repetitive. By non-repetitive I mean they didn’t play the same song more than once, which made it a whole lot more entertaining to listen to each one of the track as they played.
Overall Soul Men was fun to watch, but any actual soul it may have had was ripped out by poor writing and useless secondary characters. A real shame, as the film would have been an otherwise decent effort. Worth a Rental at the very least if you enjoy either Jackson or Mac.
Genius Productions is putting out Soul Men in a single disc DVD release, complete with reflective foil slipcover and an insert advertising the films soundtrack. Disc art is one that mimics an actual record (shame they didn’t actually use one of those textured CD-Rs Verbatim put out awhile back that really did feel like vinyl) and menus for the release are simple and easy to navigate.
The video for the film is what you’d expect from a modern production, with clean and clear video from beginning to end. There was some softness in some of the bar sequences, but for the most part the clarity was high for a standard DVD release. Audio comes in the form of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is predominantly front-focused with the dialogue and occasionally kicks in with the surrounds for the musical numbers. Also included are Spanish and English SDH subtitles.
Extras for this release include:
Feature Commentary by director Malcolm D. Lee and Writers Matt Stone and Rob Ramsey
The Soul Men – featurette on Jackson and Mac
The Cast of – focuses on the rest of the cast of the film
Director Malcolm D. Lee – talks about the actor who has directed such films as Roll Bounce
A Tribute to Bernie Mac and A Tribute to Isaac Hayes profile the two late and great actors, who had fantastic lives as both comedians and musicians, whether full time or part time in either regard.
Boogie Ain’t Nuttin is a behind the scenes look at the songs production
Bernice Mac at the Apollo focuses the last of the real extras on Mac at the Apollo
The final extra, the Theatrical Trailer, isn’t much, but all in all it’s a pretty solid list of extras. A decent commentary, plenty of behind the scenes information on the cast and crew involved as well as footage of the actual production of the film make this release worth a Rental at the very least.
Soul Men arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on February 10th.