Nobody could go bug-eye to bug-eye, toe to toe and “mofo” to “mofo” with the great Samuel L. Jackson like Bernie Mac. The only man who could hold a candle to the great Samuel L. in getting laughs out of simple, loud, profanity is gone.
“Soul Men” is a shaggy, indifferently directed road comedy that benefits from inspired casting – pairing Jackson with Mac as two has-been soul singers – and a sad afterglow. Mac died in August at 50, and the film ends with a tribute to the man and the mouth.
Mac is Floyd Henderson, one third of The Real Deal, a soul trio from the 1960s and '70s – the golden age of the O'Jays and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Floyd retired from music and built a lucrative car-wash empire. Now he's been put out to pasture from that, too.
Louis Hinds (Jackson) was the other backup singer in The Real Deal. He took a different route to retirement – bank robbery, prison time, a job in a garage.
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When Marcus Hooks, the lead singer who dumped the lads from Marcus Hooks and The Real Deal, dies, Floyd is summoned to perform at the funeral. He senses “comeback.” First, he's got to lure Louis back. And there's bad blood for them to get over.
Director Malcolm D. Lee (“Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins”) lets the stars do their thing, edits to hide the fact they can't do their own stunts (badly) and to hide the lack of dance moves. The dialogue is mostly exchanged threats – “I'll kill you disco dead!” The gags are mostly “old guy” jokes, “too tight costumes” cracks.
But Jackson and Mac click. They're perfectly believable as “funk comrades” from back in the day, polyester princes reduced to asking for the AARP discount at hotels they once trashed in the best rock-star tradition.
And if the finale adds a taste of the bittersweet this weekend (Mac is in “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,” too), that's OK. At least he got one decent showcase (he has one more film in the can) before bugging out for the last time.