That one of the few funny scenes in the late Bernie Mac’s final starring film role finds him, as a washed-up ‘60s singer tenuously reunited with his ex-con partner (Samuel L. Jackson), sealed in a piano-shaped coffin and vengefully choking the white-suited corpse of a Smokey Robinson-type former colleague, is far from the grimmest thing about Soul Men; it’s the lame farce and contrivances of the preceding 90 minutes that inspire a funereal sobriety. In a trite setup that cannibalizes both the Stax/Motown era of soul music and the shopworn road movie with an equal lack of freshness, the put-out-to-pasture Mac, frequently sporting tented trousers from his dependence on Viagra, embarks on an L.A.-to-New York drive in a vintage El Dorado with the scowling, pistol-packing Jackson, stopping for the odd disastrous roadhouse gig as a tune-up for an Apollo Theatre tribute to their deceased bandleader. The comedic license that has Mac and Jackson, at least a decade too young to have sung “I’m Your Puppet” in 1965, playing these geezer roles could get a pass if it was in the service of anything but gags revolving around denture-less blowjobs, a menacing gold-toothed gangsta rapper and crotch punching. The previously creditable comedy director Malcolm D. Lee can’t execute anything creatively with this material, unsubtly cutting to the legs of the stars’ dancing doubles when they’re required to glide on the stage. (Despite their evident enthusiasm, Mac and Jackson have the shakiest chops for song-and-dance headliners since Belushi and Aykroyd.) The end-credit sequence where Mac recites a moldy bit of doggerel about Charlie Chan’s dick before an audience of extras has more joie de vivre and organic humor than the rest of the whole desperate enterprise. Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes (briefly playing himself), to whom the movie is dedicated, have had their genuine soul posthumously obscured by this slapstick misfire.
- Malcolm D. Lee
- Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone
- Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac, Sharon Leal, Adam Herschman, Sean Hayes, Affion Crockett
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