No matter what else is going on in Soul Men, it’s difficult not to be moved by the posthumous performances of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, especially when they appear on camera together, or in one scene, leave a room together. Floyd Henderson (Mac) and Louis Hinds (Jackson) are the secondary members of a once-legendary soul band, whose lead singer (played by John Legend in flashback) went on to solo fame and has now passed away. The boys, who angrily parted ways over a woman, warily agree to reunite for a tribute show at the Apollo. Since Louis refuses to fly, this results in the obligatory cross-country drive. It also results in a mind-boggling array of stupid subplots, involving a laughable, vengeful rapper, several buffoonish white characters and the beautiful, talented “daughter” (Leal) that both men never had.
When director Lee (Spike’s cousin) concentrates on these place-markers and time-wasters, the movie collapses into laziness. But when Jackson and Mac are allowed to perform, either onstage or off, regardless of the plot, it’s absolutely joyous. Both men are masters of dialogue delivery, and you’ve never heard so many creative uses of curse words. (“They say ‘motherfucker’ a lot,” remarks one white character.) And their songs, especially one in a redneck bar, can cause almost mandatory smiles. Lee wraps things up with a mawkish, if heartfelt, closing-credits tribute to Mac, even though his mere presence in the movie speaks for itself.