by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Watching Soul Men gave me mixed emotions, knowing that two of its stars had died before the movie was released. But the movie’s plot and laughs that resulted from the late comedian Bernie Mac were enough to balance out any weird feelings I had. Mac is side-splitting funny from beginning to end.
The Real Deal was the name of the 1970s soul band led by Marcus Hooks, played by John Legend; with Mac and Samuel L. Jackson playing backup, as Floyd Henderson and Louis Hinds. The band had long split up after not much renown, with Legend going on to solo star status.
Mac and Jackson reunite to go on a cross-country road trip from California to New York’s Apollo Theater to pay tribute to their late partner, even though they haven’t performed in years. VH1 is slated to video the tribute, which also includes other performers.
In order to convince Jackson to travel from his squalid accommodations in California, Mac, who’s recently retired and suffering from boredom as well as a number of illnesses, tells Hinds that they are due to make $40,000 to headline the tribute to Legend.
Their travels by car—since Jackson, who’s ornery and has been living on the edge since being released from prison, refuses to fly—take them through Flagstaff, Arizona; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Memphis, Tennessee, before they arrive in New York, as now not one but two outlaws wanted by authorities. Jackson has brought along a pistol for the ride, which the two take in the comfort of a green retro Cadillac Eldorado with license plates “Muthashp.”
They do smaller gigs as they stop along the road, to get back in the swing of things. While in Arizona, they perform to just a handful of people, but they do a great “Hold On, I’m Comin,” made famous by Sam and Dave.
At another rest stop, at a western-style bar, they have patrons line dancing to their music.
In Tulsa, they run across an aspiring rapper named Lester, who’s really a no-good, drug dealing wife beater, who’s married to the daughter of the duet’s former female lead singer. It turns out that one member of the pair is the father of this woman, named Cleo, played by Sharon Leal.
Lester is played by Affion Crockett, and he and his crew look at the music icons and disrespect them by calling them old, until Jackson breaks Crockett’s arm after he jumps on Leal, who decides to accompany the pair to Memphis.
While in Memphis, they meet the legendary Isaac Hayes (Black Moses), who ironically died a day after Mac last August. Millie Jackson has a cameo in the Memphis scenes, as city landmarks play prominently, with the Peabody Hotel, Hayes and Stax Records among favorites thrown in for flavor.
Adam Herschman plays Philip Epstein, the son of a VH1 producer who gets the cream job of being the babysitter for Hinds and Henderson, and who ultimately becomes their manager when they decide to attempt a comeback.
After much wear and tear, and endless soul searching between the pair, Mac and Jackson finally arrive in New York, with the cops on their trail, after Mac breaks Jackson out of a Memphis jail.
Mac mistakenly believes that Jackson is dying in the movie; another ironic twist, considering the way reality played out for Mac. Another coincidence in the movie is the big Apollo tribute to Hooks, which reminded me a lot of a similar tribute to the late “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown.
There are many boobs and babes in the movie, as Mac and Jackson pick up assorted one-night stands as they travel to the Apollo gig (porn star Vanessa Del Rio has a short role); references to Soul Train; “old school R & B music”; as well as hilarious scenes with an “over-excited, Viagra-popping Mac.
At the end of the movie, there are outtakes with an extended interview of Mac, where he’s quoted as saying, “Always make them remember you,” in response to his comedic or acting roles.
And I imagine that Bernie Mac will be remembered for a long time for the laughter that he’s brought to millions, not only through his stand-up comedy but his many film projects as well. And similarly Issac Hayes will be long remembered for his innovations in music.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a veteran public relations and journalism professional and former journalism professor. She’s publicist for her daughter, Hip-Hop artist Psalm One. A native Chicago South Sider, Elaine was a recent University of Maryland Bio Ethics, Health Disparities & Clinical Trials Fellow and winner of a Black Press Messenger Award.
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