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Bernie Mac's At His Best in Soul Men

In Soul Men, actor-comedian Bernie Mac, who passed away in August, plays Floyd Henderson, a present-day car-wash mogul who, back in the 1970s, was an r&b backup singer alongside a fellow named Louis Hinds (Samuel L. Jackson). One day, their frontman, Marcus Hooks (John Legend), took off on his own, becoming a funk-soul god, leaving Floyd and Louis to part as bitter enemies. Twenty years later, Floyd bursts into Louis's fleabag L.A. apartment with a plan for the two men to drive to New York and perform at a tribute show for Marcus, whose sudden death hasn't exactly wrecked his former band mates. "I'm cryin' the tears of a motherfuckin' clown," Louis declares, and kicks Floyd out. But soon enough, the two are headed cross-country in an El Dorado convertible, bickering, getting stranded, and eventually staging their old act in dive bars. While their singing voices are ragged, the old-school hand gestures and side-shuffle footwork is mighty fine. The film dulls out in the home stretch as screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone employ increasingly silly side turns to delay Floyd and Louis's arrival in New York. It could be said, too, that the visual style of director Malcolm Lee (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) rarely matches the energy of his performers, but no matter: Mac and Jackson carry the show—particularly Mac, who's at his crackly, cranky best here. As swan songs go, Soul Men is pretty sweet.

 
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