It’s a rare movie that can be summed up by a throwaway line spoken by one of its throwaway characters. But for the life of me, I can’t think of a better way to describe Soul Men
than to say it’s about two men who, as one supporting player puts it, “say ‘motherfucker’ a lot.” Louis Hinds (Jackson) and Floyd Henderson (Mac) do say “motherfucker” a lot – mainly in anger, mainly at each other, and always with the baroque eloquence most actors save for Shakespeare – but Jackson and Mac have mastered in service of the more low-down arts. In their defense, Hinds and Henderson have a lot to curse about. Thirty years ago, they were back-up singers in a top-selling soul trio called Marcus Hooks & the Real Deal (fronted, in “historical” newsreel footage, by real-life top-selling soul singer John Legend). Then Hooks left to start a solo career, make millions, and become a pop hero, leaving his two former partners to slip slowly into obscurity and depression and, in Hinds’ case, a life of crime and poverty. Flash forward to the present day: Hooks has died, a star-studded tribute concert is being arranged in his honor at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and Hinds and Hooks, who haven’t spoken in years and whose dancing and singing abilities have been diminished by the forces of time and disuse, are on their way to New York to grab a little bit of the celebrity life back for themselves before their time is up. Along the way, they engage in all manner of cheap Hollywood preposterousness – including a ridiculous line-dance set-piece in an Amarillo honky-tonk and a jailbreak that makes the Memphis Police Department look about as capable as Roscoe P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard
TV show – straining the boundaries of narrative plausibility as they go and gradually becoming less and less funny as their bitterness gets the better of them. Soul Men
, in other words, is pure mediocrity. It’s poorly written and poorly directed (a subplot involving a young woman and her drug-dealing, rapping, no-good boyfriend doesn’t help). But, thankfully for everyone involved, the movie always has Mac and Jackson and their filthy mouths to fall back on. Whenever Soul Men
is in need of a jolt of energy, these two poets of profanity are always ready with rapid-fire, mean-spirited rants that would make the writers of Deadwood
blush. Believe what you want about the moral implications of dirty language, but in Jackson’s and Mac’s capable hands, “motherfucker” sounds like sweet soul music.