It is a truly strange feeling going to see a film on opening day knowing that one of its main actors is dead. It was that way with The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger, but even stranger with Soul Men, the movie I saw this afternoon. One of the two primary characters is played by the late Bernie Mac, and the Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes, is in the film as well. As you most likely know, Hayes passed shortly after Bernie Mac.
It didn’t take long for me to start getting into the movie, and before long I had put all thoughts of death completely out of my head. It’s hard to think of death when you’re laughing your butt off and dancing in your seat.
From the outset, Bernie Mac plays off of co-star/straight man Samuel L. Jackson to perfection, garnering huge belly laughs from myself and all in attendance. And while the comedy is top drawer, it is the music that sent me into the stratosphere,
The first song we hear (and it crops back up later in the film) is the Dan Penn/Spooner Oldham penned classic “I’m Your Puppet,” sung by John Legend (who turns in an excellent, if brief, performance), Bernie Mac and Sam Jackson. From there, the stage is set.
Throughout the movie we are treated to Memphis and Muscle Shoals classics galore, from “Soul Finger” to Isaac Hayes’ super soulful “Never Can Say Goodbye,” and Eddie Floyd belting out “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do.)” “Memphis Train,” “Boogie Ain’t Nothin’ But Gettin’ Down,” and “Do Your Thing” bring on the funk, and make you feel like dancing in the aisle of the multi-plex. Sharon Leal sings from the heart on “Comfort Me.”
As far as the plot goes, there are several throwbacks to the original Blues Brothers movie, especilly being persued all the way to the big gig by the Police. The story finds the two remaining members of the popular soul band, The Real Deal, from the 1970's, Floyd Henderson (Mac), now a retired businessman, and ex-convict, Louis Hinds (Jackson), taking a road trip to the Apollo Theater for a musical tribute to their recently deceased front man, Marcus Hook (Legend). As they travel cross country in a series of adventures and misadventures, they gripe and moan and fight about thirty year old differences, finally realizing just how much the music means to each of them, and that now, even as members of AARP, they still have what it takes to thrill an audience. It’s all about friendship, music, healing, and as Don Cornelius would say, “love, peace and soul.” Right on.
FIVE SOUL STARS
-Michael Buffalo Smith