"Soul Men" has soul, but expects too much of its charismatic stars.
Back in the day, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) were inseparable. As backup singers for R&B heartthrob Marcus Hooks, they were the sweet-singing, slide-dancing, finger-snapping embodiment of 1960s cool.
When Hooks took flight with a solo career, his sidemen sputtered along briefly as a duo before their temperamental differences interfered. Floyd invested in a chain of car washes with saucy young sponge girls in booty shorts, and made a fortune. Louis took up a sideline in armed robbery, and none too successfully.
Now, on the occasion of Hooks' death, promoters pressure the mismatched partners to perform at a funeral tribute. Sharing the airplane-averse Floyd's lime-green Cadillac Eldorado on their cross-country trip, the grumpy old singers blow the cobwebs off their act in honky-tonk dives, while taking plenty of time to brawl, bicker and bond.
"Soul Men" is a raucous, uncertainly paced comedy graced with two charismatic performers. Their acting styles are worlds apart, Mac an impudent hambone and Jackson a polished heavyweight enjoying his lighter side. Technique aside, they have a likable rapport that carries them through unlikely romantic rivalries, creaky-geezer slugfests and delightful musical sets. We are asked to believe that music could magically mend the decades-long rift between them. As they beam and smile through creamy-smooth side-by-side dance moves, and glide through melodic give-and-take, it's easy to believe in the healing power of song. Their sweet-and-sour friendship grows beyond slap-happy comedy into something oddly touching.
The film earns its R rating with gratuitous (but admittedly funny) flashes of nudity and verbal crudity. It's a lewd, slap-happy, good-natured farewell to Mac, who died in August. The late Isaac Hayes also appears, playing himself, but his appearance lacks the valedictory poignancy of Mac's final performance. Mac left us laughing and wanting one last encore.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186