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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Is 'Soul Men' racist, sexist and embarrassing?

November 3, 2008 |  5:50 pm

SoulmenSam Moore, the sole surviving half of soul legends Sam & Dave, is claiming that "Soul Men," which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac as long-estranged R&B backup singers who reunite for a last concert, is a rip-off of his life story. According to a story in the Independent today, Moore says the film--due out this weekend--is a "defamatory account" of a reunion he and the late Dave Prater attempted to pull off in 1982 after not speaking for several years. Moore claims the film has "bastardized" his life story, saying the comedy is "sexist, racist and embarrassing and that's not what Sam & Dave were about. It's so amateurish, so stupid and I'm surprised that Samuel L. Jackson is involved in this.... When you read the script, all you see is vulgarity. Every other word is the N-word or M-f and it's just not right."

Apparently Moore hasn't been going to the movies much lately, since there's nothing in "Soul Men" that's any more vulgar than the scatological jokes in "Zach and Miri Make a Porno" or the nauseating violence in "Saw 5," both of which just opened over the weekend. But does he have a point? Is "Soul Men" really a thinly disguised version of the Sam & Dave story? No way, says "Soul Men" producer David Friendly. "Our whole movie is a fiction, from start to finish," he told me. "We never got any life rights from anyone at any time because this was completely an invention. I'm a big-enough fan of Sam & Dave to know that it's a preposterous charge, since Sam & Dave were headliners, while our guys are backup singers."

Friendly laughed. "We haven't heard anything from the Pips [Gladys Knight's backup singers.] They'd at least have a stronger argument." Friendly said that he was asked to develop the project as a vehicle for Jackson and Mac, who wanted to work together in a comedy. He knew he had a hook for a movie when one of the film's writers posed the question--what if Bernie and Sam were backup singers who hadn't spoken in 30 years? The project was originally at New Regency, and then at New Line before ending up at the Weinstein Co., which is releasing the film through MGM this weekend.

Friendly said that, by coincidence, his offices were in the same building in Beverly Hills that housed Stax Records. "I literally took the elevator up one floor and talked to them about using wall-to-wall Stax music, which is how we came to license the music from them." Moore's lawyers are saying the Weinstein Co. has abused Moore's "Soul Man" trademark and are exploiting his reputation in order to make some dough. The Weinsteins' attorney, the always ferocious Bert Fields, insists Moore has no case, saying the movie tells a different story about different people. As Fields told the Independent: "If Mr. Moore decides to file a lawsuit, he will lose."

I'm no lawyer, but having seen the movie, I think Sam should rethink his position. The movie isn't racist, unless you want to contend that every Eddie Murphy and Chris Tucker comedy ever made is racist. It isn't more sexist than a thousand other Hollywood films. And guess what--it's pretty funny, largely thanks to some great chemistry between Jackson and Mac, who receives a nice, heartfelt tribute at the end of the film. As for the charge of unauthorized borrowing, someone should phone up Neil Simon. If the movie steals from anyone, it's from "The Sunshine Boys," which, as anyone could tell you, is stealing from the best.

See for yourself:

Photo of Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson in "Soul Men" by Doug Hyun / The Weinstein Co.