‘Soul Men’: Off Beat, By Kurt Loder

A muddled farewell to the late Bernie Mac.

“Soul Men” is a sweet and occasionally funny, but over-amped and limply constructed comedy about two old R&B stars who are persuaded to bury their years of bitter, post-fame estrangement in order to play a reunion show. Floyd Henderson (, sharp and funny) and Louis Hinds (, slightly miscast) started out in the ’60s singing backup in a group fronted by handsome Marcus Hooks (John Legend, who’s in the movie for about a minute). When Marcus split to go solo, Floyd and Louis carried on as a hit-making soul duo until drugs and women drove them apart. Floyd settled down to become a prosperous L.A. car-wash mogul, now retired; Louis did some jail time and currently works as a lowly auto mechanic. When news breaks that Marcus, still a star, has died on tour, a tribute concert is quickly set up at the Apollo Theater, in New York, and the two grumpy old has-beens are invited to drive across the country to take part. Floyd is up for it; Louis hates the idea, but reluctantly gives in, and off they tear in Floyd’s boat-size, lime-green Cadillac.

This middle-aged road trip proceeds pretty much as you’d expect, and there are some cute scenes. A blown tire out in the middle of the desert gives the two men time to affectionately brush up their corny old stage moves; and when they stop off in Flagstaff and Amarillo to revive their performing chops with some seedy lounge gigs, you can see Louis, all smiles now, getting back into it. (Floyd is already there.) But the duo’s incessant bickering — a barrage of mo-fo invective conducted at top, snarling volume — grows exceedingly tiresome. And the addition of two clownishly conceived characters — an angry rapper (Affion Crockett) and a lumpish, die-hard fan (Adam Herschman) — dumbs the story down. There’s also a miserable sex scene featuring Jennifer Coolidge as an ultra-buxom admirer, which has been shot in an extraordinarily ugly way. Sharon Leal (“Dreamgirls”), with her angel face and considerable pipes, is a welcome addition as a young woman drawn into Floyd and John’s adventure against her better judgment (she brings some real feeling to her scenes with Jackson, and some real oomph to the big windup at the Apollo), but there’s not enough of her to realign the film’s scattered emotional tone.

It should be noted that “Soul Men” is now reportedly the subject of a threatened lawsuit by Sam Moore, the surviving member of the titanic ’60s soul duo Sam & Dave — whose own story of stardom, dissipation and dissolution this movie very closely resembles. Moore denounces the picture as “sexist, racist and embarrassing.” A lawyer for the Weinstein Company, which is releasing “Soul Men,” has responded that the movie “is not, in any part or respect, based on Mr. Moore’s life. It tells a different story about different people.” This seems fairly brazen. True, some of the details are different — Sam & Dave never sang backup for anybody, for one thing. But Floyd and Louis perform Sam & Dave’s great 1966 hit “Hold On, I’m Comin’ ” at one point, and at another, with Legend, a rendition of “I’m Your Puppet,” a song included on Sam & Dave’s second album, in 1967. And when Floyd and Louis pull into Memphis, the home of Stax Records, where Sam & Dave recorded their classic tracks, they’re greeted by Isaac Hayes — who with his partner, David Porter, actually wrote and produced those records. (Hayes died last August, the day after Bernie Mac, too, passed away .) In addition, there are fond references to Booker T., who led the Stax house band that played on those sessions, and to Carla Thomas, another Stax artist of the period. Weinstein’s lawyer says, “If Mr Moore decides to file a lawsuit, he will lose.” To anyone familiar with the ways in which R&B performers were traditionally treated by the record industry, that sounds a lot like the bad old days.

Don’t miss Kurt Loder’s reviews of “Repo! The Genetic Opera” and “Role Models,” also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Soul Men.”

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