In yet another variation on the shopworn road picture in which two mismatched former buddies are forced to cross the country together Soul Men’s uneasy brand of overly broad humor and contrived situations is saved intermittently by some cool musical numbers. But alas it’s not enough. Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) are part of a major musical group led by Marcus Hooks (John Legend) who goes solo leaving Floyd and Louis in the lurch. Fast forward 20 years Hooks has died and Louis and Floyd who did not end on good terms and have not spoken since have been coerced into appearing a tribute show for Hooks at New York’s famed Apollo Theatre. Afraid to fly they get in Floyd’s 1971 Cadillac El Dorado accompanied by a talented young woman (Sharon Leal) who may be Floyd’s daughter. Along the way they try to get their act up to speed by appearing in various redneck honky tonks filling the interminable 103-minute running time with a lot of unfunny sexual encounters and unbelievable situations. The late Bernie Mac was a terrific comic talent and is highly wasted in this mishmash in which he is constantly encouraged to mug for laughs. Mac is so much better than the lowbrow material he has to work with here that it’s a shame this film should stand as one of his last (at least there’s Madagascar 2). Faring even worse however is Samuel L. Jackson who is out of his element in a musical comedy and seems to be taking none of this hokum seriously. Thankfully the soulful musical numbers reminiscent of classic ‘60s Sam and Dave R&B are well chosen and capably performed even though neither Mac nor Jackson are known for their singing. Best number in fact is fronted by John Legend making his acting debut as Hooks. As the young eager beaver manager trying to get Floyd and Louis back together Sean Hayes is way too broad. Faring better is newcomer Adam Herschman as Hayes’ mop-topped intern who uses his fanboy infatuation with the pair to nice advantage. And there’s a nice now bittersweet bit near the end with the late Isaac Hayes. Malcolm Lee (Undercover Brother Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) is a director who tends to go for the slapstick when a little subtlety and believability would be more in order. With a great Sunshine Boys premise and some nifty musical material to pepper the proceedings Lee still manages to drop the ball letting his talented actors down and encouraging them to chew up every scene. The corny silly situations certainly doesn’t help matters with the road trip device feeling more like padding than anything else. Soul Men doesn’t find the right rhythms.
Tragedy strikes the Marshall University community when a plane crash claims the lives of most of the football team coaches and some fans. With the whole town traumatized university president Donald Dedmond (David Strathairn) thinks it's best to cancel the football program but remaining players led by Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) rally the school to support continuing the team's honor. Of course nobody wants to coach in these circumstances--that is until rogue bad boy Jake Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) asks for the job. Along with surviving assistant coach Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) they build the team back up. Just putting the team back together raises the town's spirits but getting back the winning record is another story. This could have easily been a sappy tearjerker but it sticks to the high road for the most part. There are some sad scenes (i.e. the cheerleader [Kate Mara] returning the engagement ring her dead boyfriend gave her to his mourning daddy) but otherwise the focus is on moving ahead. Just about every actor gets at least one big moment to cry. That's a given in a story of this nature and some of them are better than others. Mackie's stoic attempt to take punches in an injured shoulder is full of passion but Fox's random breakdown is well just like a flashback from Lost. He is better on the field showing us a side to his personality we haven’t seen yet. Strathairn seems the most sympathetic as the pained authority figure making tough decisions. Mara (Brokeback Mountain) looks so innocent you just want to hold her hand and stroke her hair every time she wells up. Aside from that there's also a lot of personality in the film. McConaughey leads the team with a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his lips but it never comes across as insensitive. He’s hip so of course he's the one who can lead them out of tragedy. And as an ensemble film the cast comes together as a community in which a single tragedy can affect them all and a single victory can give them hope. McG totally restrains his bombastic Charlie's Angels style of filmmaking for this character piece. Just about the only noticeably fancy shot is a dissolve from Mara looking up at the plane to her boyfriend staring out the airplane window. It's a moving moment because we know what is coming and it does not call too much attention to the filmmaking process. McG knows how to do some great montages too. Recruiting the new players running the drills--they're all full of visual moments set to a rocking soundtrack. Most importantly he handles the tragedy with class and doesn’t deliberately try to jerk tears. The plane crashes with only a single jump and a fade to black but the wreckage burns through our hearts. Instead McG shows there's a way to honor the dead to take back a community's pride and let life go on without disrespecting any of the departed. The football games in We Are Marshall are filmed with visceral impacts pretty much the way most sports movies are. There's no Friday Night Lights grit but that's fine. These games are about telling a story not exposing the seedy underbelly of the sport.
November 14, 2005 6:06am EST
Since the age of 12 Marcus (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) wanted to be a rapper. After his mother Katrina (Serena Reeder) is brutally killed Marcus’ rap dreams are put on hold and he begins hustling drugs to make enough money for a nice pair of shoes. Only he doesn’t stop at the shoes. When Marcus gets involved with Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) he sees how much money there is to be made in the drug business and he wants it all. Then his childhood best friend Charlene (Joy Bryant) moves back to Queens and they fall in love. But it isn’t too long before she gets pregnant and he is arrested. While perfecting his rap skills in jail he meets Bama (Terrence Howard) who becomes his manager and lifesaver on the outside taking him out of the drug game for good. 50 Cent may have the rap world locked up but his acting skills leave a lot to be desired. Watching him trying to emote is sort of akin to watching a bad comic bomb on stage. He seems to be the first rapper-turn-actors these days who can’t cut it. Thankfully Get Rich’s supporting cast help out--a little. Marc John Jefferies (Stuart Little 2 Spider-Man 2) who plays the young Marcus nearly steals the show. At first loving and caring then turning cold and unforgiving Jefferies made it look easy to flip the switch between the two. Another standout is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (HBO’s Oz) as the crooked drug lord Majestic. And in a year chockfull of good performances Terrence Howard who obviously just wanted to work with Sheridan adds much needed comic relief as the quirky Bama. Director Jim Sheridan whose resume includes Oscar-winning films such as In America and My Left Foot probably thought that if Oscar-winning director Curtis Hanson could handle Eminem’s 8 Mile with aplomb then he could do the same thing with a gangsta rap story. Guess he forgot the fact Hanson (L.A. Confidential) can do gritty. The very Irish Sheridan is just clearly way out of his element. Get Rich jumps around so much you don’t have any time to figure out what’s happening who’s who or where the heck the film’s heading. And it doesn’t help that the chaotic script is peppered with such stereotypical dialogue. Honestly if you want to see a compelling story about a wannabe rapper getting his shot (and not shot at) rent this year’s Hustle & Flow.