“You’ve got Samuel L. Jackson. You’ve got Bernie Mac. Just turn on the camera and I guarantee you got something you can keep.”
During an August weekend in the past summer of 2008 the entertainment world lost two of it’s brightest stars in just two days. On August 9th comedian extraordinaire Bernie Mac died from complications of pneumonia. The Mac-Man, as his friends liked to call him, was little more than 50 years old. Just a few hours after Bernie Mac passed, on August 10th legendary soul man Isaac Hayes also died. Hayes was 10 days shy of his 66th birthday. This was certainly a tragic weekend for the entertainment community, but the unlikely coincidence is made somewhat bittersweet by the fact that both men appeared together in what would be one the final appearances by both performers. That movie was the comedy Soul Men. To make the coincidence carry further, that film would have as its main plot point the idea of getting to the funeral of a soul legend, recently passed away.
It was 1972, and the big R&B act sweeping the nation was Marcus Hooks and The Reel Deal. The act had a Smokey Robinson flavor to it. Marcus Hooks (Legend) was the front man while Louis Hinds (Jackson) and Floyd Henderson (Mac) made up The Reel Deal, providing the backing vocals and dance moves. The band would split in 1977 and Hooks would go on enjoying success while The Reel Deal would languish behind. Now Hooks has died and The Reel Deal are offered a spot to perform at the funeral, which will be broadcast live from The Apollo Theater in New York. Floyd sets out to interest Louis in coming with him for the show. Unfortunately Louis isn’t all that interested in a comeback. He also hasn’t forgiven his former partner for stealing away his woman. However, the promise of a 60/40 split in his favor of $40,000 convinces the reluctant has been to make the trip. The two travel across country for the gig, all the while playing a few dives along the way to pay for the trip and to get their chops back. Neither one of them is in the shape they once were, and they keep getting on each other’s nerves. Nonetheless, the show must go on, even if they have to break out of jail to get there.
On the surface this is just another buddy road film. Once the trip gets going, however, you soon discover that this little film has a lot of heart to go with all of that soul. Apparently Bernie Mac and Samuel Jackson have been buds since before either of them were all that well known. They’ve been chomping at the bit to work together and finally found a vehicle, and man is it a funny one. It’s actually hard to hold back a tear or two amid all of that laughing you’re going to be doing, because you know it’s the last time these guys are ever gonna team up again. They have plenty of chemistry and bring that long friendship to the table. In between the sniping and complaining, it’s not hard at all to believe these guys have some serious history together. It’s one of the best love/hate relationships on screen. Why in Hades did it take you guys so long to find a project together?
The supporting cast is another huge asset for this film. Boston Public’s Sharon Leal shows she’s got both acting chops and one sweet voice in this one. She plays the daughter of the woman the boys fought over for so many years. She ends up filling in and joining The Reel Deal on stage. All the while the boys are being pursued by a gang of thugs starring actors with names like Pay-Pay and Zig Zag. They look the part all the way. Some of the best fish out of water stuff comes from the man with the hair, Adam Herschman. Herschman plays a representative from the record company who has the unenviable task of getting the two guys to New York City for the funeral gig. Finally The Black Moses himself, Hayes plays…well…himself.
There’s just so much to love about this film that it stuns me how poorly it did at the box office. It pulled in just over $12 million in spite of the recently deceased cast members. It had come and gone before you really had a chance to see it. Let’s be thankful that home video release allows us a second chance to watch the funniest movie of 2008.
Soul Men is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is a clean one. Colors are better than average. You get a good dose of the colors with the crazy dated blue studded suites the boys wear for their first gig. There’s alsoThe “Muthership”, Floyd’s neon lime colored caddy. Flesh tones are pretty much reference. The black levels are a little above average. It’s not a great presentation, but it never distracts from the zaniness at hand.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a mixed bag. This is a very dialog heavy film, and you’ll catch every glorious F-Bomb exchange between Mac and Jackson. The sound does spring alive for the musical numbers. It’s not an aggressive mix, but the performances are quite clean and crisp. That’s really Bernie and Sam singing. Not bad. Not too bad at all.
There’s an amusing Audio Commentary with director Malcolm Lee and a couple of the writers. They couldn’t stop laughing themselves. They credit the chemistry between Mac and Jackson plus a lot of improv for the wonderful comedy bits.
The Soul Men – Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson: This 9 minute feature looks at the history the two actors had with each other. Cast and crew talk a lot of love for the duo and explain that they were the genesis for the entire project.
The Cast Of Soul Men: This 8 minute piece looks at the supporting cast. Everyone talks about how they loved everyone else. This was a solid cast, however.
Director Malcolm Lee: 3 minute Lee love fest.
A Tribute To Bernie Mac: This 7 minute tribute was a necessity for the release. You get the expected love letters from cast and crew and a lot of the Mac-Man’s own words. It’s a little spooky, because Mac talked a lot about his life in these clips for the movie. It’s almost as if he knew this might be a last goodbye.
A Tribute To Isaac Hayes: While Hayes had a miner role in the film, it was fitting that his passing be addressed here as well. This one’s only 4 minutes, but there’s even footage of Mac paying tribute to him.
Boogie Ain’t Nuthin’: It’s the full song and a look behind the scenes of this performance by the boys.
Bernie Mac At The Apollo: The Mac-Man used his time between takes to entertain the extras in the theater during the shooting of the final scene in the film. He gives them some classic bits and offers some unrehearsed comedy. It’s a touching look at what was likely one of Mac’s last stand up performances.
I can’t deny that I laughed harder during this film than I have in a very long time. It’s a keeper and one you’ll want on your shelf to watch again and again. I’m not simply jumping on the “say nice things about the dead guy” bandwagon. Watching these guys interact and trade barbs and F-Bombs is like watching two artists at work.. I’ll admit this might not have been the kind of film I would have jumped at before, “But things have changed and I’ve received a state of mental clarity.”