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4 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Soul Men
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Lacks The Quiet Dignity Of "Soul Man"
1 stars

It is always a difficult thing to watch a new film featuring the contributions of someone who has passed away before its release. No matter how much you try to ignore it, the real-life tragedy (especially if it was unexpected) does loom over the proceedings and unless the film and said contributions are so exceptionally brilliant that you are somehow able to forget them (as was the case with Heath Ledger’s performance in “The Dark Knight” or Stanley Kubrick’s direction of “Eyes Wide Shut,” to name two notable examples), there is an inevitable pall that is cast upon the entire enterprise. The good news about the new comedy “Soul Men,” which features the last big-screen appearances of both the comedian Bernie Mac, who is one of the co-stars, and Isaac Hayes, who pops up in a small supporting role, is that after only a few minutes of watching it, my sadness about their fates had completely faded into the background. The bad news is that it was replaced with my sadness about the film, one of the most amateurish and embarrassing things that I have seen in a long time and a complete squandering of all the talents involved. This is not just one of the worst movies of the year (which it would have been whether Mac and Hayes were still alive or not) but one of the most depressing movie-related experiences that I can recall having in a long time.

The film opens with a brief overview of the career of the quintessential R&B group Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal, a combo that reigned supreme on the charts until Hooks (John Legend) decided to go on to even greater glory as a solo performer and left his back-up singers, Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac) to fend for themselves until poor sales of their lone post-Hooks albums and years of acrimony caused them to split up as well in 1979. In the subsequent decades, Floyd became a successful car wash magnate while Louis spent the years in and out of prison and when the film picks up with them, Floyd has been unceremoniously shipped off to a retirement community while Louis is living in a dingy apartment while acting surly towards everyone who comes across his path. At this point, it is announced that Marcus, who has apparently transformed himself into a combination of James Brown and Elvis Presley since leaving for greener pastures, has passed away in Europe and that his body will be transported to Radio City Music Hall, where it will serve as the centerpiece of a massive televised tribute concert that will be held in a few days time. Naturally, Floyd and Louis are asked to make the cross-country trip to the show to perform. Naturally, Louis is excited to break out of his humdrum life for another taste of what used to be while Floyd doesn’t want to have anything to do with him or the concert. Naturally, Louis finally manages to convince Floyd to sign on by dangling the promise of a big payday. Naturally, Floyd, evidently realizing that he is in a road movie, chooses this moment to insist that he will not fly under any circumstances. Naturally, Louis, who evidently also realizes that he is in a road movie, just happens to have a flashy vintage car that will make for an appealing visual on a coast-to-cost drive.

At this point, those of you who have seen a road movie or two in the past can probably predict many of the things that will occur before the end credits--plenty of backbiting between Louis and Floyd before they eventually reconcile, a couple of warm-up gigs that go spectacularly wrong, a few problems with the law, some wacky gay panic that ensues when they are forced to share the same bed, a dark moment when all seems lost and a triumphant performance at the tribute concert. (If you dare to write in and bemoan the fact that I should have put a spoiler warning before that last item, I promise that I will mock you publicly.) None of these developments, nor the fact that the story is essentially a knock-off of “The Blues Brothers” and “The Sunshine Boys,” were especially shocking to me but what did come as a surprise was just how vulgar and smutty the proceedings were. Essentially, screenwriters Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone have taken a premise that might have served as the basis of a perfectly pleasant family comedy of the kind that Touchstone Pictures might have ground out in the late 1980s and have needlessly coarsened it to the point where even those in the mood for a raunchy adult comedy may find themselves taken aback.

Consider the scene in which Louis finds himself seduced by his neighbor at the retirement community, played by none other than adult film legend Vanessa Del Rio in a bit that reconfirms my theory that the most terrifying phrase in the English language may well be “adult film legend.” Consider the sequence in Texas in which the two each snag a groupie for the evening, Floyd gets a pretty young thing while Louis winds up with an older vixen (Jennifer Coolidge) who removes her teeth before performing “the Velveteen Rub”, and the next morning, we discover that they are mother and daughter. Consider the sequence in which they come across the sweet-voiced daughter (Sharon Leal) of their former back-up singer and discover that she is living with a drug-dealing would-be rapper (Affion Crockett) who also likes to smack her around., a character who keeps turning up after the guys recruit her to be their back-up singer for the big show. At this point, someone is bound to remind me that “The Blues Brothers” was rated “R” as well. Agreed, but that was probably one of the mildest “R” ratings ever issued and despite the swearing, there was an essential innocence to the proceedings that this film utterly lacks.

Granted, I will admit that when I went into the screening, I did not know that it had been rated “R” and therefore may have been more taken aback than usual by what was going on but even if I had been fully apprised of the rating, I think that I still would have been shocked by the level of vulgarity on display here. Look, I don’t have anything about vulgar comedy per se--I laughed all the way through such cheerfully raunchy current films as “Zach and Miri Make A Porno” and “Role Models”--as long as it is there for a reason. The problem with the vulgarity on display in “Soul Men” is that there is absolutely no need for any of it. For one thing, the basic story doesn’t really require it in any way to move the story along--it all feels as if it was added in at the last minute in order to spice up the proceedings. And yet, even if all of the smut was somehow designed as an organic part of the story, it still wouldn’t work her for the simple reason that smutty humor is, for the most part, a young man’s game and watching veteran performers like Mac and Jackson performing the kind of material that one might ordinarily find in an “American Pie” sequel is more depressing than funny. Even when the film hits upon a bit of gross-out humor that isn’t entirely out of place--the duo somehow wind up hiding out in the piano-sized coffin occupied by their former bandmate--director Malcolm D. Lee fumbles the material so badly that what should have been a hilarious sight gag just turns out to be just another grim and unpleasant moment among many.

Absolutely nothing regarding “Soul Men” works at all--the chemistry between Mac and Jackson is nonexistent, the comedic scenes are handled in such a lackluster manner that it is hard to believe that Lee has ever seen a funny movie, let alone made a couple of them in the past (as he has with “Undercover Brother” and “Roll Bounce”) and the more mawkish and sentimental material is too gruesomely off-putting to contemplate (although it is nothing but a grim coincidence, the fact that one of the subplots involves the possible terminal illness of one of our heroes casts just sinks things even further). I take it back--there are two things in the movie that sort of work. I did like the scene where the two try to check in to a fancy hotel and find themselves barred from the premises because of the room-wrecking parties from back in the day. The other comes during the end credits, where B-roll footage of Bernie Mac being interviewed for the film’s electronic press kit and cutting up behind the scenes has been inserted as a sort of tribute (with Hayes getting his own shout-out as well). In this material, he is loose, funny and charming in a way that he was never allowed to be in the film itself and while it is the best thing on display, it also serves as a reminder of just what a waste of a gifted performer the rest of “Soul Men” really is. Maybe when the film is ready to hit DVD (which will probably be in a couple of weeks), the producers can cut all of this interview footage together and release that as the main film while relegating “Soul Men” to the supplemental materials section where most people will wind up avoiding it altogether.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17055&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/07/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

2/15/09 Tony Rent Tapeheads instead. "You don't dig for gold in another man's mine." -Bernie Mac 3 stars
11/23/08 George Barksdale Loved Bernie Mac's and did enjoy this movie. He will be missed. 3 stars
11/10/08 Colleen H anything with Bernie Mac is worth a look, but generally the whole thing was average. 3 stars
11/09/08 stephen goodridge Lved bernie's performance 4 stars
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  07-Nov-2008 (R)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2009


  DVD: 10-Feb-2009

Directed by
  Malcolm D. Lee

Written by
  Robert Ramsey
  Matthew Stone

  Samuel L. Jackson
  Bernie Mac

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