Judge Dennis Prince can still get down; he just needs a moment to get back up again.
Our review of Soul Men, published February 23rd, 2009, is also available.
These two soul men are now Blu brothers, but how will these old dogs take to a new tech?
Even though 2008's Soul Men was hardly noticed during it's brief theatrical bow, it's good to see it's available in the Blu-ray format to attract a wider audience, if not on technical merit alone. Certainly, Soul Men isn't a very original comedy, cribbing bits and riffs from the likes of Going In Style, The Blues Brothers, and Grumpy Old Men. It's the "aging buddy" formula with a musical twist added in, drafting off the entertainment train wrecks that VH-1 gleefully exploits in its "Behind the Music" noxious nostalgia productions. As derivative as it is, Soul Men delivers genuine entertainment thanks to the commitment of its stars, Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac. Yes, it's still difficult to believe that Mac is gone, having passed away just prior to the film's release. In that regard, it's a swan song of sorts and one where the well-loved comedian shines mightily. Thank the heavens that he found his way to being paired with the perpetually pissed off Samuel L. Jackson, the two about as collaborative and cuddly as a junkyard dog opposite an alley cat. This is where their chemistry gels and where some rapid-fire comedy pours freely. Unfortunately, this particular narrative vehicle has been driven far too many times and the film comes off as more of a rerun than a fun new feature.
Yes, it's that all-too-familiar story of two washed-up entertainers from thirty years ago who still harbor deep grudges against one another and where even the death of their third band mate, lead singer Marcus Hooks (singer/songwriter John Legend), can't bring them to mend their differences. Of course, the promise of payment for a tribute and musical send off at New York's Apollo Theater gets backup singer Floyd Henderson (Mac) motivated to reconcile with his incendiary former counterpart, Louis Hinds (Jackson). After many MF-bombs and a few pops to the jawbone, the two ultimately embark upon a cross-country road trip to see if they've got just a little spring still left in their step. You can pretty much predict the hilarity that ensues (some of which misses the mark) plus the requisite tender moments thanks to the three-way reconciliation with young Cleo (Sharon Leal, This Christmas), a waif abandoned by her father all those years ago (and I won't tell you who is the father). Through it's adherence to a story arc that we've seen so many times before, much of its potential goodness is left un-addressed, that being the 1970s roots of the Real Deal (the name under which Hooks, Hinds, and Henderson operate). The picture starts off looking like a VH-1 documentary and includes some faux-retro imagery of the Real Deal's past, from early days as a happy trio to the ultimate splitting off of Hooks, he who pursues a clearly Bootsy Collins path, leaving Hinds and Henderson to go on as a duet. This is all perfectly scored by musician Stanley Clarke but after the first few minutes, the film discards the fun throwback elements and elects to follow the grumpy buddy trail. Still, it succeeds in being entertaining thanks to the perpetually sparring Hinds and Henderson, played to the 'T' by Jackson and Mac. They probably achieve more than any other pair could with this well- worn material and it's a shame that capable young director Malcolm D. Lee couldn't just turn them loose while immersing them in the retro realm a la Boogie Nights meets Spinal Tap. Oh well.
On Blu-ray, Soul Men looks excellent. The 1080p/AVC encoded transfer delivers an image that absolutely pops with color and clarity. The original source material is near perfect with nary a speck or fleck visible. Colors are deep and rich, making me long for more time in those neon-saturated '70s. Contrast is excellent and shadow detail is well preserved without any noticeable black crush. Details are well managed with plenty of skin and fabric textures visible in practically every scene. In this regard, this disc is certainly worthy of a look. On the audio side, the inclusion of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix is much appreciated yet it plays oddly confined, never able to emerge from all channels with any sort of punch or power. Also, the low-end channel never gets tapped to add to what could have (and should have) been an energetic outing. The audio elements are well balanced, nonetheless, and dialog is always clear while the great score is nicely complimentary throughout; it just needed the chance to really break out.
The extras on the disc are the same as have been included on the standard definition release (audio commentary, featurettes, interviews, trailer) without any Blu-ray exclusive elements. That said, it's nice to see the complete package here with the improved image, making this the easy choice over the DVD version.
Sadly, it also needs to be said that this was the final appearance from soul music legend Isaac Hayes, he who passed away just two days following Mac's departure. It's a shame to have lost two great talents over the course of a few days but, thankfully, Soul Men had come along to capture them in good light and fine form.
If you haven't given Soul Men a look, grab this Blu-ray and enjoy it for what it is. It's nothing groundbreaking or original, but it is a fun film that will entertain you in respectable manner—just shoo the kids away, as the language and sexual content is rather explicit.
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