To be fair, Bernie Mac is not the problem with this film. He's actually pretty good. His performance can be likened to that of a man who's been asked to juggle a handful of poop. To his credit, Mac juggles that poop for an hour and a half. It's a pretty amazing feat. But in the end, it's still poop that he's juggling.
So it is with Soul Men, a mediocre, and often sub-mediocre, comedy about two aging soul musicians who reunite for the funeral of their former bandmate. Of course, the two soul men hate each other, and they must go on a road trip together from Los Angeles to New York, and along the way, they have adventures and learning and special feelings which result in boners of love. Plus, they do the sorts of things that old people do in movies: They beat up young punks and have sex with young women. So it's basically a funkier version of Grumpy Old Men.
Unfortunately, it also includes the following ingredients: a rectal exam, nose-picking, toothless blowjobbery and naked white people (not the good kind of naked white people). All of those elements would be tolerable if they were accompanied by some measure of laughter. Sadly, when these elements appear, even the most precise, modern systems of measurement can find no laughter.
Of course, there are other elements in the film, and they're not all bad. First off, Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, as Floyd Henderson and Louis Hinds of soul band The Real Deal, are pretty great. Lately, Jackson has just been playing the same character over and over again: the Jheri curl Jedi knight who growls and snarls his way through some dialogue and then kicks and/or beats some ass. But in Soul Men, surprisingly enough, he shows some real depth. Sure, he growls and snarls and does all the things that we expect of Samuel L. Jackson, but at the same time, he clearly decided not to play a super-powered space assassin with an anger-management problem, and instead decided to play a version of Samuel L. Jackson that might exist in the real world.
Mac plays the Mac character, a luckless everyman surrounded by people who want to thwart his few remaining chances at happiness. So this is basically the Bernie Mac of The Bernie Mac Show, only now he's supposed to be of retirement age, hopped up on Viagra and boredom, and depressed with the meaninglessness of his once funktacular life. When he can no longer stand another round of golf, and his mouth is full of sleeping pills and booze, he wakes up to the possibility of restoring his soul career.
Which is sort of touching, maybe doubly so, because Mac's life was cut short before the film was released. It's a real shame, because Soul Men showcases his talents while not giving him much in the way of good material. With a real script and some decent direction, Mac could have knocked one out of the park. Here, he bunts and winds up on first, and then gets left there when the next three batters strike out.
Besides Mac and Jackson, the best part of the film is the costuming in the unfortunately brief flashback sequences. If, like me, you think fashion reached its peak in the days when psychedelic meshed with funk, the average Afro occupied three voting districts, and boots were no longer made for walking, but rather for displaying cut-out silver stars on their 8-inch-high maxi-wide heels, you, too, will enjoy these scenes. One of the great masters of that era, Isaac Hayes, has a bit part in this film, and he, too, passed away before its release.
So Soul Men is like a coffin full of awesome, buried in a pile of "meh."