Underpinning Soul Men's high-energy hilarity is an unmistakable theme of mortality — a strange coincidence following the unexpected deaths of two costars, Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes.
Samuel L. Jackson, who plays an aging member of a former soul group alongside Mac, says the theme leaves him solemn and optimistic.
"I'll be 60 in December, so, I look at that, and I look in the mirror, and I still don't look like somebody I thought would look like this at 60," he told TVGuide.com "So, I think about it."
In Soul Men, which opened Friday, Jackson's and Mac's characters struggle to reckon with their elder years as they try to revive their brief stardom decades after their one-hit-wonder trio split up. Their cross-country road trip is punctuated by foot-tapping song and dance performances, slapstick-driven antics, encounters with the past and even a little legal trouble.
Mac died in August of complications from pneumonia shortly after wrapping up work on the film, which is named for legendary soul singer Hayes' classic song "Soul Man." Hayes, who has a cameo in the film, died of a stroke associated with chronic hypertension the following day.
After that, Jackson recalled, "people started calling and asking if they should put me in a safe house."
Despite his gentle joking, Jackson said Mac fans flocking to his final film will recognize the kind of authenticity and comic tone for which the comedian was known.
"When audiences see it, they will see the guy that they knew, loved, invited into their homes every weekend," Jackson promised. "And they'll discover that he can sing, dance and do some other stuff, dramatically, that they've never seen him do. So it's sort of a fitting last picture to give his fans, and say, ' this is the guy that you loved.'"
During a tribute montage that Soul Men director Malcolm Lee added to the end of the film, one clip features a pensive Mac offering his philosophy of living every day to the fullest. His sobering words are no sooner spoken than emphasized by anther clip: In costume on Soul Men's set, Mac is seen delivering an ad hoc stand-up routine to the audience of extras, production hands and anyone else who happened to be milling around, sending them into fits of laughter — until, at least, a crew member flogs him off stage so they could get back to filming the movie.
The scene reflects how Jackson remembers Mac best. "On those days when there was an audience, a microphone and Bernie — match made in heaven," he said. "You forget — he was just out there doing his thing."