Soul Men


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur,

Mors venit velociter quae neminem veretur

When we remember and talk about films, the focus is usually on what actually happened on the screen. In this case, the off-screen subtext is actually more important. One of the stars and a supporting player died during this film. The star was a likeable and talented comic, Bernie Mac, and the bit player in this movie was no bit player in life, but a giant of soul music as a producer, performer, composer, arranger, and even as a starring actor in blaxploitation films. Tha's right, I'm talkin' 'bout Eye-zak "Chef" Hayes himself.

Their deaths change the film substantially. It probably shouldn't be that way. During Soul Men's feel-good ending, we should probably be thinking about the characters and the catharsis produced by wrapping up their stories, but we aren't. The closing credits are running over Isaac's mellow voice. His song is saying the words "Never Can Say Goodbye," but we realize that he is doing exactly that, and the film's emotional resonance deepens. The silly comedy suddenly seems like a memento mori. Bernie Mac then appears in outtakes and "behind the scenes" footage, and we are made even more aware of the swiftness of time's winged chariot.

The fourteenth century Latin couplet cited above means:

Life is short, and shortly it will end;

Death comes quickly and respects no one

Ain't that the truth.

Man, those 14th century monks were some cheerful-ass guys, were they not? If there had been movies back then, they would have been screenwriters for Stephen Daldry.

Back to the point.

The film is about two back-up soul singers who are asked to perform a farewell tribute to their recently deceased frontman. The group split up three decades earlier. The lead singer went on to become a soul legend, but the back-ups soon left the business. They tried to form their own act, but it wasn't viable. Let's face it, nobody buys a Pips album without Gladys Knight. Their friendship soon followed the same direction as their careers - they were both in love with the same woman.

After all the years, the Pips still don't get along, and the two men are as different as can be. One became a successful entrepreneur who is now living in the splendor and ennui of a gated golf course community. The other turned into a bad-ass criminal who is now an ex-con struggling in menial jobs, living in squalor. The two men grudgingly agree to work together for the farewell at New York's Apollo Theater, but they live in California and one of them refuses to fly, so they have to spend several days together during a car ride. Along the way they encounter the daughter of the woman they once fought over. They realize that she may or may not be the daughter of one of them.

Before the poignant ending, which would not have been so damned poignant if everyone in the cast could have stayed alive for a few more months, the film can be summed up in one short list of attributes: good music, funny dialogue, solid performances, tired plot. As for that plot thing - child, don't you pay that no never mind. It's well worth the watch if you like the music of the early Motown and pre-rock eras, and/or if you enjoy Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, who are both great in the film. You would expect those two guys to handle comedy and some light drama with ease, and they do. The pleasant surprise is that they are also convincing as a couple of guys who once made a living singing, dancing and charming audiences.

Soul Men has a few cringe-worthy moments and a predictable plot, but that just doesn't matter while you watch it. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly, and watched several scenes a second time. All of which goes to show that you can make a good entertainment film with just about any plot - just as long as you don't lose sight of what makes it entertaining. Let the musicians play. Let the comedians joke. Give Samuel L. a chance to bluster in righteous and profane indignation.


You done got yourself a pretty decent movie.

DVD Blu-Ray
Sound Track Sound Track .mp3


3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
60% Rotten Tomatoes "Cream"
49 (of 100)


5.9 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. It disappointed. Despite a 2000 theater distro, it grossed only $12 million overall. It opened with a weak $5 million weekend, 6th place overall.


Vanessa del Rio shows her breast in a sex scene.

Sara Erikson shows her bum in a tiny thong.

Stifler's mom (Jennifer Coolidge) exposes acres of flesh, but keeps the privates private.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is a pleasant comedy delivered by old pros. The poignant post-script is bittersweet icing on the cake.