Plot: What’s it about?
Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) has been accepted to Harvard Law School, which means all of his hard work is about to pay off, in grand fashion. His best friend Gordon (Arye Gross) also managed to get in, so the two have big plans for their days at Harvard, as well as what their goals will be after completion of their studies. In other words, Mark has things going how he wants to and soon enough, he will have the world at his fingertips. But his plans are thrown off track when his father refuses to fund his schooling, leaving this pampered suburban kid up the creek without a paddle to count on. He isn’t going to give up however, so explores every option out there, until just one is left as a potential chance. A student could gain a full scholarship to the school, but in order to get that deal, Mark would have to be a black man. So he dons some brown polish, an artificial afro, and a deeper voice, which somehow lands him the scholarship he needs. But will this be as simple as he thinks, or will his new persona bring more trouble than he expects?
This is the kind of movie that will never be made again, as it offended all sorts of people back in the 1980s, never mind today’s overly sensitive masses. It takes an outlandish premise, asks us to take an immense leap of faith, and supplies some solid laughs along the path. I suppose you could focus on the messages about racism, bias, and all those issues, but come on, this is an ’80s teen flick and should be treated as such. I think the premise is hilarious and while unbelievable to be sure, Soul Man manages to be humorous in the process, which is what counts. As you laugh at the jokes and such, you’ll also laugh at the clothes, hairstyles, and of course, the characters who actually take our lead for a black man. C. Thomas Howell looks whiter when he dresses black, but he does his best, while a gifted supporting cast pitches in to balance it all out. I think this is a terrific addition to the ’80s teen movies on DVD, especially since Anchor Bay has whipped up a nice disc here. So fans of the genre won’t want to miss Soul Man, now can you dig that?
His role here is an impossible one, a part that no one could take on and conquer, but even so, C. Thomas Howell came out and did his best. I mean, this is a role in which the actor is supposed to seem black, but looks more white than when he was supposed to be a cracker. Howell hits the mannerisms well and tries to play the part to the hilt, but the stupid makeup and hairstyle doom him from the start. I know this was a low budget movie, but come on, this is pretty weak and in the end, it adds another dimension of laughs, unintentional ones. Other films with Howell include Side Out, Red Dawn, The Hitcher, and The Outsiders. The cast also includes Rae Dawn Chong (Crying Freeman, Commando), Arye Gross (Seven Girlfriends, Just One of the Guys), and James Earl Jones (Patriot Games, Field of Dreams).
Video: How does it look?
Soul Man is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I’ve seen this movie countless times on rental tapes and cable television, but it has never looked this good, not even in the same ballpark. Aside from some very minor grain at times, the print used here is clean as a whistle and defies the film’s ’80s roots. The colors and contrast are good, with no flaws to speak of, though some scenes do look a shade soft. You won’t mistake this for a recent production, but it looks superb and fans will be stunned by the transfer here.
Audio: How does it sound?
The 2.0 surround option found here won’t win any tech awards, but it is more than solid and remains consistent. I heard very little presence in the rear channels and I mean very little, as in a handful or so instances. But the front speakers handle the load with ease, given the film’s rather laid back audio elements that don’t ask much from this mix. The music sounds as alive as possible, which isn’t saying much, but dialogue is clean and crisp throughout. So not a memorable mix per se, but a good one and that’s enough in this case.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes a sometimes humorous, but often apologetic audio commentary with director Steve Miner and actor C. Thomas Howell. The two try to hard to defend the film, when they should be talking about how it was made, telling interesting stories about the production, and other behind the scenes tidbits. I am pleased to have their comments, but I wish more time was spent on the film’s creation process, as opposed to them trying to explain themselves. This disc also contains the film’s theatrical and teaser trailers.