With a song in their hearts and a curse on their lips, Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson struggle to reunite The Real Deal. The result is A Real Mess.
That great philosopher and poet Neil Sedaka once said, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." No one knows that better than Louis Hinds and Floyd Henderson—members of an R&B group known as The Real Deal (think Smokey Robinson & the Miracles) that had a real bitter falling-out a good 30-some years earlier.
They've still not fully recovered.
Then The Real Deal leader Marcus Hooks turns up real dead. Suddenly, folks are talking about The Real Deal again, and a music mogul wants the survivors to reunite and play a farewell gig at the Apollo Theater in New York.
Why not, Floyd thinks. He doesn't have anything better to do. Though Floyd successfully migrated from the music industry fame to small business owner (he launched a lucrative car wash chain), he's since sold his interests to his nephew, who promptly shuffled him into a swank retirement community.
But Floyd can't make a comeback all alone. So he straps on his courage and asks his estranged partner to join him. "No!" Louis says. (And I should note that he adds other, ruder words to his reply.) "I'm gone, and I want to stay gone." But when Floyd mentions that the duo would get $40,000 for the performance, Louis reconsiders.
The two hop into Floyd's vintage Cadillac Eldorado and cruise down the highways and byways leading to New York City, brushing up on their stage skills at bars and clubs along the way.
Louis admits he's made a few mistakes. Like the drugs. And the women. And the time he tried to rob a bank. And the subsequent prison stint. But he did set up a secret trust fund for his daughter, mailing her his Real Deal royalties while he eats dog food. Give the guy a point for generosity (but knock one off for being a poor financial planner).
Once he meets his daughter (who, at first, doesn't know her relationship to him), Louis protects her from a bad-news boyfriend (by breaking his arm) gets her a gig as a singer (after the originally scheduled songstress walks out) and reconciles with her (leaving her a tender phone message from a jail cell).
Oh, and he makes up with Floyd, too. Both commit many bizarre and criminal acts throughout the film, but at least they become friends again, right? And they are willing to own up to their mistakes, giving themselves up to the police just before the credits roll.
Clearly, Louis has issues—not the least of which is the fact he's a walking knot of rage. When his employer insults him with a racial epithet, Louis turns on him, pushes him against a wall and tells him there was once a time when the employer would've lost all his teeth for such a remark. Now, however, Louis says, "I'm trying to be all centered and s---."
His source of "centeredness"? The teachings of Lao Tzu, founder of the Eastern religion/philosophy of Taoism.
Lester, the bad-news boyfriend, claims to be Muslim on Saturdays. While the credits roll, comedian Bernie Mac makes a joke involving the f-word and the name of Jesus.
While still in his upscale community, Floyd hooks up with a buxom neighbor (former porn star Vanessa del Rio). She exposes and fondles her breasts while gyrating on top of a fearful-looking Floyd. He later has a one-night stand with an elderly fan who takes out her false teeth to better pleasure him. They both make comments about her pubic hair (which we don't see) and her bosom (which is barely covered by a flimsy camisole).
Floyd pops Viagra, and his erections become running gags (Audiences see his clothes tent out at several junctures). Floyd also apparently masturbates under his bed covers at one juncture.
Louis gets together with a fan, and we see him fondling her bare buttocks. (She's wearing a thong.) A picture, supposedly taken during The Real Deal's glory days, shows Louis in bed with a man and several naked women. (Their breasts are visible.)
[Spoiler Warning] Remember the daughter Louis set up the trust fund for? Well, here's a bit more of the story: It seems that back in the day, he and Floyd both fell for a girl named Odetta, but only one got married to her. At first. And only one had an affair with her. At first. And if you think you're confused, just imagine how they feel.
Despite the lingering hard feelings, the two decide to visit Odetta—only to discover that she's dead. Then they meet Odetta's daughter, Cleo, who just so happens to be about the right age to be Floyd's daughter. Or Louis'.
Cleo sometimes wears revealing dresses, and it's implied that Isaac Hayes wants to bed her. Phillip, a Real Deal fanboy, runs around in just his underwear and talks about his nonexistent sex life. An onscreen commercial contains a barely veiled reference to a sex act and features scantily clad women washing cars. Louis and Floyd talk frankly about women and other sex acts.
Lester, a wannabe gangsta rapper, is Soul Men's primary villain. He carries around a gun in the hopes of looking tough, threatens to kill people and, in a song, brags about hitting Cleo. Later, we see Cleo with a bruise on her face, which enrages Louis. Louis proceeds to rough up Lester, forcing him to make several apologies while pulling his hair and twisting his arm. Then, for good measure, Louis breaks the guy's arm. Floyd tells Cleo that Lester's lucky that Louis got to him first, because he (Floyd) would've likely killed him instead of just hurting him. Later, the dynamic duo hits Lester with a car.
Louis assaults his boss, punches Floyd in the face and is shown, in grainy flashback footage, robbing a bank and wrestling with guards and police. Floyd, for his part, punches Louis at least twice—once in the face and once in a critical part of the male anatomy—and the two fight in a hotel room, essentially trashing the place (for old time's sake). He also brandishes Louis' gun on several occasions; more than once he fires it "accidentally."
Phillip gets captured and stuffed in a car trunk by Lester and his pals.
Crude or Profane Language
When Samuel L. Jackson was asked by MTV about the film, he said, "It's a little profane." Leave it to that wacky Jackson to so blithely understate things. He and his co-stars say the f-word about 150 times, and the s-word more than 60. They repeatedly abuse God's name. (About a dozen times it's paired with "d--n.") Before the last scene fades, audiences have also been assailed with the n-word, "b--tard," "p---" and "p---y," to name just a few.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see Cleo smoke a cigarette, Louis choke down a drink, and Floyd and Louis take over-the-counter medication. Mostly these meds are used for actual medicinal purposes, excepting the Viagra, of course, and the time Floyd puts a handful of sleeping pills in his mouth—along with booze—hoping to kill himself. We hear about The Real Deal's wild past, times when Louis was drunk and/or high. Lester deals marijuana from Cleo's front porch.
Other Negative Elements
From onscreen rectal exams to familial discord, Soul Men specializes in dealing out negative material. Floyd breaks into Louis' apartment and he lies to Louis about the money they're to get if they perform together. Louis robs a bank and lies to Floyd about owning a dog. Opting not to stop Lester from selling drugs, Louis chooses instead to force Lester to cough up some of the resulting money.
Floyd breaks Louis out of prison by taking Louis "hostage" and locking a guard up in the cell. To escape police, the two hide in a piano-shaped coffin—along with the deceased. Before they emerge, they relieve the dead man of his watch and ring.
Morbid irony is added to that last bit about coffins and corpses because Soul Men is the last movie made featuring either comedian Bernie Mac or soul legend Isaac Hayes. Both died shortly after shooting.
It may be unseemly to so soon speak ill of them, or even projects connected so intimately with them—as this was with Mac. So we'll instead conclude this review with a list of the good things their film accomplishes: