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.

The Bucket List

January 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes
Directed by: Rob Reiner (“Rumor Has It…”)
Written by: Justin Zackham (“Going Greek”)

Not even cinematic cornerstones like Jack Nicholson (“As Good as It Gets”) and Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) can save a film without enough substance. Between both of them, they hold four Oscar wins and 16 nominations, yet their illustrious careers are no match for first-time screenwriter Justin Zackham’s syrupy and ultimately empty movie “The Bucket List.”

As a lonely billionaire hospital owner who recently finds out he has cancer, Edward Cole (Nicholson) is frustrated when he is placed in the same room as cancer patient Carter Chambers (Freeman), a family-man who has spent his entire life providing for his children and wife by working as a mechanic.

You would think in his own hospital Edward could get a private room, but with a stringent “two beds to a room, no exceptions” policy preached by himself before he becomes sick, his personal assistant Thomas (Sean Hayes of “Will and Grace” fame) thinks it would be PR suicide if he was not following his own rules. Thus, he is stuck with a roommate.

Although their personality clash from the onset, Edward and Carter begin a friendship between card games, chemotherapy, and Carter’s history lessons, which Edward seems to get used to after a while.

When both find out they only have a year or less to live, their bond becomes stronger and the two decide they are not going to spend their final months in a hospital bed waiting to die. Instead, they create what Edward refers to as a “bucket list,” a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.”

Soon, we’re on a road trip with Edward and Carter through the countries of France, Egypt and India looking at majestic backdrops and pushing their physical limits to the extreme. Also on their list are skydiving, getting a tattoo, and driving a racecar. As the two cherish their final moments, Carter suggests Edward make amends with his estranged daughter. All the while, Carter’s wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) worries about her husband, who has never done anything spontaneous like this in his life.

There in lies one of the many problems with “Bucket List.” The trip never feels like a conjoined effort for both men. Despite the duo sharing a few life stories with each other, there is really no connection or chemistry between them. Blame Zackham’s inability to tie scenes together accurately on that. Most of the dialogue while they’re on their journey is from Carter, who cannot experience anything without verbalizing how much he knows on the topic. His cleverness – although harmless – wears on the nerves after a while.

Directed by Rob Reiner, whose career high points happened between 1986-1992 (“Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Misery” and “A Few Good Men”), “The Bucket List” has the occasional smile-inducing scene but falls short of anything more than a collection of pleasantries. It is the film equivalent of a pat on the back when what you are really looking for is one of those embraces that last forever.