It's a testament to the gravity and authority the late Bernie Mac brought to his roles that he manages to hold onto his battered dignity throughout an early scene in Soul Men, where he hits unexpected high notes as a doctor shoves fingers up his rectum. It's a painful gag on multiple levels. Sadly, that hackneyed bit is the rule rather than the exception in this dreadful comedy. Soul Men subjects Mac to an endless gauntlet of humiliation, sexual and otherwise, using him as a sturdy vessel for stale gags involving Viagra, inopportune erections, and groupies with false teeth and/or comically oversized breasts. The film is so unrelentingly awful that its schmaltzy end-credits dedication to Mac and co-star Isaac Hayes feels tacky and disrespectful.
In a nifty premise that promises far more than it delivers, Soul Men casts Mac and Samuel L. Jackson as cranky old men who achieved modest fame in their youths as part of a soul group whose lead singer (John Legend, who lucks into a dialogue-free role) went on to huge solo fame while his bandmates left music and pursued other interests: Mac became a successful businessman, while Jackson fell into a life of petty crime. When Legend dies, his ex-bandmates and longtime enemies reluctantly reunite for a rowdy road trip to perform at a memorial.
Soul Men casts the best possible leads in the worst possible movie. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother) and screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone have made a completely joyless film about life-affirming music by skimping on musical sequences and piling on crude sex jokes and stupid stereotypes. Most egregious of these is an ugly, hateful, dim-witted gangsta rapper who deals drugs, beats up his girlfriend, is musically and culturally illiterate, and generally behaves like the kind of racist, one-dimensional caricature that Lee's cousin Spike mercilessly lampooned in Bamboozled. Audiences throughout the world are destined to give Mac and Hayes not just the obligatory moment of silence, but 103 whole minutes of silence; for all its crudeness and desperation, Soul Men can't scare up a single laugh.