It amazes me that Soul Men (2008) didn’t get much exposure when it was first released in November 2008, given the two star names attached to the feature, namely Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes. In fact, on release in the States it only managed to make back a measly $12 million (just 30% of its $40 million budget), which explains it hugely delayed, straight to DVD release here in the UK.
My feelings towards Soul Men before viewing were difficult to gauge. Although I’m a fan of both Jackson and Mac, I’m not adverse to a bit of soul and I’m a sucker for music-orientated road movies, there was something about the film didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was the lack of promotion, the average to poor reviews – or that sickly feeling that this was clearly being marketed as Mac’s last film.
When a film promotes itself around the death of one its main stars, it more often than not suggests a lack of quality and can give the impression that the distributors are clutching at straws in order to grab a slither of attention from the masses. All the press releases I’d seen for Soul Men billed the film as being Bernie’s “Last hurrah”. Sadly, it really doesn’t need to, as I rather enjoyed the film.
Soul Men tells the story of fictional 1970’s soul group “The Real Deal” – fronted by Marcus Hooks (John Legend), with Louis Hinds (Jackson) and Floyd Henderson (Mac) as backing vocalists – who, like all good bands, split up and go their own separate ways. Whereas Hooks goes on to become an iconic musical legend, Hinds and Henderson simply descend into being nobodies. Louis hits the drugs and drink, whilst Floyd grows into an old man with a bad hip and a healthy diet of various legal (and illegal) medicinals. When Hooks dies, it once again brings these two nobodies together as they set off on a road trip towards a VH1 tribute show.
Where this film shines, however, is in the on screen chemistry between Jackson and Mac. You can quite clearly see that the pair of them had an enjoyable time making this film and that is visible in their performances, and when they are alone in a scene together it’s more often than not laugh out loud funny. Unfortunately, there is also quite a bit of fluff surrounding the main arch, most of which never really goes anywhere or builds to any truly satisfying.
Despite my reservations, there is something about Soul Men that I found incredibly charming. When you put aside the comparisons to Elwood and Jake, the badly written supporting roles and the horribly contrived cliched plot, Soul Men is an enjoyable film. Jackson and Mac are excellent in their roles and there are a lot of laugh out loud moments to keep an audience interested throughout. In addition, the songs and music are catchy and the final reel has enough catharsis to warm even the coldest, most cynical of hearts.
While Soul Men will not go down as one of the classic comedies of recent years, it certainly deserves a lot better than a straight-to-DVD release, two years after its initial US run.