Bernie Bids Adieu in Soul Men


Soul Men is the one thats really going to make you miss Bernie Mac. Hes so filled with life and energy here that its hard to believe … well, anyway. It will make you miss him. He found his comfort zone in mainstream comedies, of which I have liked nine of 12. When an edgy director like Terry Zwigoff came into the picture with Bad Santa (2003), he allowed Bernie Mac a little more depth.

In Soul Men, there are scenes that hint at what he might have done in a dramatic role. Its a formula comedy, but there are real feelings here that we suspect would exist in this troubled struggle between musicians who havent played together in 20 years. In the end credits, there are generous tributes to Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, also in the film, both gone from us within two days last August. Bernie gets the last, touching word. And you know, even if I mentioned a possible heavy dramatic role, I never felt he was a comedian with a sad man inside. In the credit cookies, he talks about his good luck while thanking a theater audience (of extras) for his career, and we believe him. He seems like a comedian with a happy man inside.

Anyway, years ago Louis (Samuel L. Jackson), Floyd (Bernie Mac) and Marcus (John Legend) were a trio of big-time musicians. But Marcus split for superstardom, and the other two took separate paths to relative anonymity. Now Marcus has died, and Floyd and Louis are desperately needed to appear in a memorial concert at the Apollo in Harlem. Theyre not even speaking to each other. Fight over a woman.

For the money, Louis agrees to join Floyd in a cross-country road trip to New York. Thats the formula: two incompatible guys, long trip, one car. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, etc. Its Floyds car. An El Dorado convertible. But of course it is. Ever notice how often cross-country road trips in the movies involve classic convertibles? Two reasons: The rag top makes it easier for the camera to see them, and recent cars dont look like cars.

In the 1950s, kids used to stand on the corner and spot cars approaching from one or two blocks away. First kid to ID one scored a point. Chevy. Dodge. Chrysler Imperial. Studebaker. Ford. That far away and they could even ID the model: Rocket 88. Fairlane. Golden Hawk. To kids today from a block away, unless its a Hummer, all cars look the same. Camry. Camry. Camry. Fifty years from now, movie characters will be crossing the country in 100-year-old cars.

Floyd and Louis rehash all their old differences, and encounter some remarkably friendly women (including Jennifer Coolidge, Stiflers mom). They have adventures. The beloved Caddy, with absolute inevitability, is damaged. Their spirits lift, and they do one of their old routines. The trio is re-formed by adding a young singer, Cleo (Sharon Leal), who may have more to do with the trios history than anybody realizes. At the Apollo, the reunion with Marcus and their big stage entrance are interestingly linked.

This movie has a lot of good music in it, some on the soundtrack, some on the screen. Jackson and Bernie Mac have enormous fun doing intricate dance moves together. Isaac Hayes has a farewell role worthy of our memories. Of the actors, only John Legend is a little stiff, although he goes through a time-line of costumes and hairstyles in the flashbacks. You want a good time? Soul Men will provide it. You want to say goodbye to Bernie Mac? He wants to say goodbye to you.