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Image: Soul Men
Doug Hyun  /  AP
Bernie Mac, left, and Samuel L. Jackson star as retired backup singers who decide to take their act back on the road in "Soul Men."
By Film critic
msnbc.com contributor
updated 11/4/2008 9:52:24 PM ET 2008-11-05T02:52:24
REVIEW

The plot outline for “Soul Men” could fit comfortably on a single note card, with room left over for a grocery list and a few phone numbers. A road-trip rip-off of “The Sunshine Boys” infused with soul music and vulgar, misogynist humor, this dreadful film marks a sad end to the distinguished careers of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.

In a flashback introduction that feels like lesser outtakes from “Walk Hard” (which wasn’t that great to begin with), we learn that music icon Marcus Hooks (John Legend) has died and that VH1 is planning an all-star funeral for him at the Apollo Theater. The news brings some much-needed excitement into the life of retired used-car dealer Floyd Henderson (Bernie Mac), who was one of Marcus’ backup singers back in the day, before the star went solo.

Marcus’ other backup singer, Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson), had a single hit as a duo act with Floyd until the two men had a professional split over the woman they both loved. With Floyd bored out of his mind in a senior citizen community and Louis living in poverty as an ex-con with anger issues, the two men reluctantly agree to reteam. Since Floyd won’t fly, they have to put up with each other in a cross-country car trip.

You can pretty much map out what happens without seeing the movie, but the story outline can’t begin to capture the mean-spirited humor, the hideous cinematography (there are green-screen shots in the driving sequences that are mind-bogglingly awful) and the general air of predictability that permeates “Soul Men.”

Apart from the character of Cleo (Sharon Leal, several steps down from “Dreamgirls”), the daughter of the woman over whom Floyd and Louis fought, every woman who turns up on screen is either a shrew or a slut or both. Special attention should be paid to the criminal misuse of the hilarious and talented Jennifer Coolidge, who pops up as a middle-aged temptress who removes her dentures for an intimate moment with Floyd. Wokka-wokka!

There’s a whiff of a gag in the flashback sequences regarding Jackson’s ability to make all of the popular African-American hairstyles of the last 50 years look somewhat ludicrous, but that’s about as close as “Soul Men” gets to generating any laughs. Stay home with some Platters and P-Funk CDs and spare yourself this musical mishegas.

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