DVD Review: Soul Men (2008)

Spins onto DVD & Blu-ray
February 10, 2009

Near the end of Soul Men, Bernie Mac says to Isaac Hayes, "After you, young man," and Hayes exited the door of the set first for the film's ultimate performance at the legendary Apollo Theater. However, unfortunately, in real life as the two passed away just one day apart-- this time around it was the younger man, Mac who left us first on 8/9/08 with Hayes following on 8/10/08.

Leaving us with two excellent final films-- both of which ironically opened theatrically on the same day (November 7, 2008) and now are being released on DVD and Blu-ray just days apart (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Soul Men), the infectious laughter Mac loved to spread will certainly continue on just like the old records spun by Stax-- the extraordinary label which released Soul Men's soundtrack and is paid tribute to in Undercover Brother director Malcolm D. Lee's best film so far.

In a beautifully packaged silver outer cover that protects the DVD box itself (an increasingly popular trend in DVD and Blu-ray as of late), the film executive produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein in tandem with others in their Dimension Films umbrella (the brother studio of their former Miramax which now finds them operating as The Weinstein Company) and Genius Products, LLC. the disc is loaded with bonus features including tributes to both Hayes and Mac.

However, remembering that the focus of the film was explicitly on music and comedy, not to mention first and foremost to entertain (as Mac always wanted), it's not a depressing edition but a celebration of the extraordinary talent involved. In addition to containing a great spontaneous burst of stand-up comedy by Mac trying to amuse extras during a lengthy shoot, a commentary track by Lee and the film's writers and more, it also includes great footage and interviews of its remarkably gifted supporting cast. The members include the beautiful singer Sharon Leal (Dreamgirls), one of my favorite funny women, Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Legally Blonde, Best in Show etc.), Sean Hayes (Will and Grace, Pieces of April), the funny white dude with an afro Adam Herschman (who looks like he could be Jonah Hill's long-lost brother), the dreamy John Legend whose take on "I'm Your Puppet" melts just as much as any of his other contemporary material, and the film's obligatory clueless villain played by Affion Crockett who does his best with what feels a bit like a caricatured role.

To sum it up in a nutshell, essentially you have a soul music and f-bomb filled version of Lemmon and Matthau's Grumpy Old Men series crossed with the classic John Hughes comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as we're first introduced to the men's trio The Real Deal roughly thirty years back before lead singer Marcus Hooks (Legend) went solo. While the men fared well for a brief period, eventually drugs, excess, and women led to their unraveling with the final straw being their jealous love over one woman in particular which escalated when she left Jackson's Louis for Mac's Floyd, becoming his first of five wives.

While Floyd hit rock bottom-- thrown in jail while using a fake gun to rob a bank and having forgotten everything from Watergate to when the Space Shuttle blew up-- Mac's business savvy prevailed as he ran a successful car dealership complete with commercials of apparent strippers doubling as car wash girls who tease customers with not so subtle double-entendres about rim jobs.

After a hip replacement, Mac's Floyd is essentially put out to pasture by his nephew in a retirement community but when he's plagued with insomnia that no amount of golfing or hooking up with elderly widowed neighbors by aid of Viagra will alleviate, he leaps at the chance to try for a reunion to play in an Apollo tribute show upon hearing that their former partner Marcus has died.

While Floyd is in, Louis is definitely out-- working in a greasy garage and living in an apartment that looks as though it wouldn't be fit for a squatter including a huge sack of dog food with no apparent dog. And when Floyd stops in to try and persuade Louis, following a punch in the jaw that knocks Louis out cold, the two pick up right where they left off which results in a fiery confrontation consisting of the oddest configuration of f-bombs you've ever heard as the men try to outdo one another in a shockingly hilarious effect.

Now that the Lao Tzu reading Louis has had his goal to be "all centered and shit" interrupted, eventually he relents and they predictably set off on a car trip (since Louis doesn't fly), with Floyd surprising him along with way with a variety of bad gigs in Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee. Following a few misadventures and run-ins with trashy over the hill groupie Jennifer Coolidge (in a terribly raunchy scene that moves from hilarious to disgusting in thirty seconds flat before she and Mac get us laughing once more), they pick up a third passenger in the form of the beautiful Cleo (Leal), the daughter of the woman they'd both loved and lost.

Careening towards a conclusion at the Apollo-- while ultimately for the men's characters, the final show is the goal, in Lee's film, it's the journey as he tries to throw enough wild and unpredictable road-movie cliches and obstacles in their path. While some are extremely successful (e.g. everything involving their biggest, nerdy young white fan played by Adam Herschman) and others just feel tired (such as Cleo's loser boyfriend played gamely by a wasted Crockett), overall it's a fun film that will entertain more often than it disappoints.

Likewise, it's elevated significantly by the great chemistry between Jackson and Mac and a supporting cast that seemed like they were all on the same page of just wanting to ensure that-- much like "Boogie Ain't Nuttin' But Gettin' Down," their film was essentially about gettin' laughs and unexpectedly pulling at our heart in a few places, especially now that we're aware that both Hayes and Mac are no longer with us. However, thanks to the film and their legacy, the two will forever "Groove On" and while Mac's Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is already available, Soul Men spins into stores near you on February 10.

This Review is Dedicated to the Memories
of Bernie Mac & Isaac Hayes