Soul Men

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Bernie Mac Bares His Soul Onscreen

Starring: Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson

By Tom Bevis

It’s been a big year at the Hollywood mortuary. With the deaths of Paul Newman and Heath Ledger (hell, even trailer guru Don LaFontaine) still ringing in the ears of audience members everywhere, Bernie Mac’s death is likely to end up as a footnote on the 2008 obituary sheet. Mac, earning more fame from his standup than from his attempts at film and television, passed silently and almost unnoticed. It was, then, that many hoped his final theatrical performance would give us something to remember him by.

As a story about two retired soul singers trying to win back their glory days, the film would seem acceptable as a final farewell. However, there seems to be no overarching theme of the picture, no moral except that if you can yell, beat up drug dealers, and take Viagra, there can always be a comeback. The story follows two ex-backup singers, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Mac), as they travel across country to perform at a tribute concert to their recently deceased band mate. And just as one would guess, the duo runs into problems and obstacles abound on their journey.

The script tended to rely on cheap gimmicks and the ever popular deus ex machina to propel the story, all plumped up with events ranging from incredulous to downright unbelievable, such as a group of rednecks breaking into a square dance to funk music or Floyd and Louis jumping into song and dance in the middle of an Arizona freeway. With such a stiff story, it’s no surprise that by the end of the film, each character is exactly the same as they were when the film began, showing exactly no development after the film’s 103 minute run time.

The film holds a typical brand of comedy in which high-volume swearing matches between Jackson and Mac are in high supply and every bit of sexual humor shoots quickly from the profane to the obscene. There are times, though, when bits of fresh comedy shine through a script of otherwise overdone profanity, including various bouts of sexual competition and a medical mix-up.

Nothing negative can be said about the acting, however. Mac and Jackson both portray their roles to the height of their abilities, giving as believable performances as such a rigid script can allow. Surprisingly, though, the most genuine performance actually comes from Adam Herschman (you probably remember him from 2006’s Accepted, or from the recent Alltel commercials) who plays a star-struck executive assistant-cum-band manager.

What could almost easily be considered the high-point of the movie is the warm dedication following the conclusion of the picture at the onset of the credits, created from various production stills, bloopers, bits of stand-up delivered on set and a backstage interview. In the last few minutes, Mac is shown discussing what drove him to succeed in what sounds eerily like a self-delivered eulogy. The wave of applause which followed—something belonging more in a stand-up club than a movie theater—shows that Mac may be dead and he may have made a bad movie, but he’s far from forgotten.

2/5

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Author: Tom Bevis

Tom Bevis is a ne'er-do-well residing in Southern California where he frequently neglects the variable San Diego climate to spend hours pondering over his PS4 collection struggling to decide what to play. He has recently taken over as lead writer of the indie comic Feral Boy and Gilgamesh, the back catalog of which you can read at feralboyandgilgamesh.com. He also hates writing about himself in the third person.

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