Soul Men

November 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac, Sean Hayes
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee (“Roll Bounce”)
Written by: Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (“Man of the House”)

With “Soul Men,” fans of the late Bernie Mac will get a familiarly amusing dose from one of the Original Kings of Comedy in one of his last feature-film appearances. While Mac’s on track, the script runs off the rails in its musical journey to the 1970s, when polyester leisure suits were the height of funky, and Don Cornelius said goodbye to his audience every week with a wish for “love, peace, and soul.”

In “Soul Men,” Mac and Samuel L. Jackson play a couple of washed-up backup singers who reunite for a farewell performance after their former bandleader passes away. The trio, Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal, was once considered one of the biggest R&B acts in the world (You’ll recognize their hit “I’m Your Puppet,” which was actually first recorded by Bobby and James Purify in 1966), but when Hooks (John Legend) decided to start a solo career, Floyd Henderson (Mac) and Louis Hinds (Jackson) were left to harmonize as a duo.

After releasing one record, the Real Deal split up, citing creative differences, and slowly began to slip into musical obsurity. When a VH1 executive calls up Floyd, who has supplemented his royalty checks as the owner of a bikini car wash, to see if he’d like to participate in the reunion at the Apollo Theater, he sees an opportunity for a comeback. Louis, however, is comfortable living like a slob and isn’t interested in reliving the glory days. He can’t remember anything in the period from “Watergate to when the space shuttle blew up,” anyway. But when Floyd mentions getting a paycheck for their performance, Louis isn’t in a position to reject the offer, especially since he lost the rights to his music years ago in a poker game.

From here, “Soul Men” becomes a typical road-trip movie, taking the grouchy odd couple from Memphis to New York City in a lime-green El Dorado. Mac and Jackson do have great chemistry together onstage (offstage, “motherfucker,” the insult most readily tossed between them, loses its bluster after numerous repeats), but screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (their last collaboration was on the horrendous 2005 Tommy Lee Jones comedy “Man of the House”) aim for cheap laughs instead of effectively using the strongest of their assets: the soul-music genre. Hardly anything culturally relevant to the era is even mentioned. Even Black Moses himself, the late Isaac Hayes, doesn’t make his cameo until the film’s waning moments.

Instead, Ramsey and Stone rely on jokes about rectal exams, Viagra, and toothless oral sex, and fail to build on subplots featuring characters that seem to be yanked right out of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” Still, it’s not a far stretch from Mac’s normal film offerings, which were never as funny as his raw stand-up or his five memorable seasons on television.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

February 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, James Earl Jones
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee (“Roll Bounce”)
Written by: Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man”)

Pigeonholed into the same roles over the last few years, comedian Martin Lawrence is able to break away (a least a bit) from his usual shtick with some success in “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.” He still might be a smidgen on the goofy side, but at least he’s not playing a brainless cop again…and that’s always a good first step.

In the film, Lawrence is the title character Roscoe Jenkins, a popular Jerry Springer/Dr. Phil-type talk show host living in L.A. with his quasi-celebrity fiancée Bianca (Joy Bryant) and his young son Jamaal (Damani Roberts).

Roscoe, whose stage name is R.J. Stevens, is a busy man, so when his family, who he hasn’t visited in nine years, invites him home to Georgia to celebrate his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, he can think of a million things he would rather do than revisit a place he left for a reason.

But when Roscoe finds out Damani has been keeping in contact with his grandfather on the phone and through letters for a couple of years, he realizes how important it is to his son to finally know the Jenkins family (and no, just because Lawrence is the star doesn’t mean there’s a cameo from Sheneneh Jenkins).

The cast of characters that makes up his dysfunctional and sometimes sweet family is wild enough to keep your attention on the comedy side without becoming too top-heavy in slapstick lunacy. Some of these characters deserving enough for mention are Roscoe’s big brother Otis (Michael Clark Duncan), a former linebacker whose found happiness as the sheriff of town he grew up; Reggie (Mike Epps), a leeching cousin, who hasn’t worked a day in his life but somehow always has money; and his other cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), who he’s always had a rivalry with since they were boys.

More realistic and less obtrusive than anything Tyler Perry has come out with since making it big with his first film in 2005 (although that, to me, is still a mystery), “Roscoe Jenkins” doesn’t take itself seriously and still manages to toss in a few morals-of-the-story without becoming overly enlightening.

You could seriously do a lot worse in this genre than this Lawrence-vehicle. Sure, it’s riddled with stereotypes, but there’s also some good-natured moments amidst all the feuding and sexual innuendo. Think of it as “Roscoe in Real Life” then suck it up, watch a few gags with a surprisingly amusing family, and be thankful Mo’Nique only has a small supporting role.