ARTS

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November 7, 2008

Script may tread old ground, but these men have Soul

Fans of A Mighty Wind and Blues Brothers might appreciate the new movie Soul Men, in which a musician’s death leads to a picaresque road trip culminating in a police sting. Although not the most original of comedies, the rapport between leads Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson makes up for Soul Men’s occasional crassness.

The movie tells the story of two soul musicians who have not performed in decades. Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac) has retired to a life of insomnia-inducing golf and sunshine, while Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson) works as an auto mechanic. The third member of their old singing group, Marcus Hook, split off into a successful solo career long ago, causing Henderson and Hinds to form their own group, The Real Deal. When Hook dies, Henderson convinces Hinds to perform at a memorial concert. Despite their differences, they take a road trip to the show, encountering reminders of the past, as well as many obstacles, from criminals to cops, along the way.

Although the plot is somewhat predictable, what holds the movie together is the energy of the actors, especially the two leads. When Jackson and Mac are on camera, it is hard to focus on anything other than their sometimes sweet, sometimes testy relationship. Throughout the movie, Henderson’s enthusiasm collides with Hinds’s gruffness, leading to lying, trickery, and fights between the two men. Soul music snakes through the movie, transitioning scenes, setting moods, and at times even motivating actions. Henderson and Hinds sing and dance soul numbers several times. Cleo (Sharon Leal), the daughter of a woman both Henderson and Hinds once loved, also sings as part of the act towards the end of the movie. These numbers are entertaining, and the songs catchy, but the best part of these scenes is how they highlight the friendship between Henderson and Hinds.

Well known actors pop up as minor characters throughout the movie. Sean Hayes, from Will & Grace, plays the producer of the funeral tribute. Jennifer Coolidge from Legally Blonde also makes a brief appearance, along with Ken Davitian from Borat. These characters provide a relief from Henderson and Hinds, giving the audience a glimpse at the world outside of the duo. In addition, Grammy winner Isaac Hayes, also known as Chef from South Park, shows up several times in the film, adding an air of authenticity to the production.

Since the death of Mac and Hayes in August, the prospect of Soul Men’s release has been tinged with sadness. Mac died of complications related to pneumonia at the age of 50. The cause of Hayes’s death, at 65, is unknown. However, the movie itself is a fitting tribute to the comedic talent of the two men. In recognition of Mac and Hayes, the credits run not against a roll of bloopers, further scenes from the movie, or a plain black screen. Instead, a video tribute to both of them plays on the side, and the movie is dedicated to both men. The video combines interviews, pictures, and behind-the-scenes moments. The tribute focuses mainly on Mac, who has a significantly larger role than Hayes in the film.

Also shading the movie’s release is the lawsuit Sam Moore has threatened to bring against it. Moore argues that the characters and story of Soul Men are based on the lives of Dave Prater and himself when they performed as Sam & Dave. Soul Men’s producer Harvey Weinstein denies this claim.

Soul Men doesn’t break the mold as far as band reunion comedies are concerned. And its humor relies not on high-brow cleverness or bizarre events but on the more basic blunders humans often make. Misunderstandings, mishaps, and mistakes are the driving force behind Soul Men, allowing audience members to sit back, relax, and eat their popcorn contentedly.