You’ve seen “Soul Plane” before, literally. Considering that a large percentage of those reading this review already have the film on bootleg, the movie is old news before it even opens.
Still, for those who haven’t seen it, “Soul” is a sad retread of all that has crippled “black” comedies.
I put “Black” in quotes because Hollywood’s definition of African-American culture is narrow at best.
As to be expected, “Soul” follows Tinsel Town’s dastardly rule that all things black are defined by what one would see in a hip-hop video.
Forget that hip-hop’s key age demographic makes up a mere 8 percent of the 35 million African Americans; in the movies we ALL have an affinity for Sprewells, flashy jewelry and “izzle” speak. Sure, some of us act that way, but a purple airplane sitting on dubs hardly exemplifies the totality of black culture.
A string of skits
But this is comedy and anything goes, right? Well, that certainly seems to be the case. While touted as an urban (another vague, insulting term when it comes to movies) version of the airport disaster spoof “Airplane,” “Soul” plays more like a loosely connected string of skits inspired by countless “black people do this, white people do that” stand-up routines.
The story is supposedly about Nashawn Wade (Kevin Hart), a young brother who wins a $100 million case against a major airline and starts N.W.A., the first black-owned airline. Our more insightful comedians would have a field day with a premise like this, but in the hands of director
Jessy Terrero, it only serves to highlight the most gross and obvious stereotypes ever hurled at our culture. Almost everyone here is a loud, obnoxious weed-head who’s more interested in sex and music than running a business.
Joining Nashawn are his cousin Muggsy; Method Man, playing the same wacky cousin he played in “My Baby’s Daddy”; Snoop Dogg, as the dubiously qualified Captain Mack; and K.D. Aubert, as Nashawn’s ex-girlfriend/new love interest, Giselle.
There to pull in the white demographic is Tom Arnold as Mr. Hunkee (pronounced “honkey”), whose wayward family of four ends up being the sole Caucasians on N.W.A.’s maiden flight.
Plot, character are afterthoughts
Attempts at plot and character – Nashawn tries wooing back the engaged Giselle and Mr. Hunkee attempts to reconnect with his daughter – are afterthoughts, barely tolerated by the director.
This is probably a good thing considering what we do see is nonsensical and silly. With his high-pitched voice, dark skin and big eyes, it’s clear the marketing machine wants Kevin Hart to remind us of Chris Tucker. But Hart seems to have a more sensitive sense of self and would probably shine with different material.
But this movie isn’t about him; it’s about Mo’Nique, Snoop and John Witherspoon, as they star in little vignettes that range from cringingly offensive to genuinely funny.
All is not lost. At times “Soul” manages to rise above all the tired racial play and sneak in some deserved laughter. Despite its gaudy exterior, Nashawn’s plane is actually an improvement over conventional aircraft – at least for those in first class, where guests can listen to Lou Rawls while sitting on roomy white Corinthian leather seats and picking over filet mignon and a selection of fine wines.
In lower class, however, folks find themselves in car seats or holding bus hand rails, and being served from a menu of Popeye’s Chicken and Colt 45. At least here, there is more than one definition for us to fit in.
Likewise, D.L. Hughley has some funny moments playing a bathroom attendant, as does comedian Godfrey, as African co-pilot Gaemon.
Witherspoon steals the show
But it’s John Witherspoon who continues his perfect record of show-stealing playing an amorous blind man who mistakenly lets his fingers do the flirting. His scene is easily the funniest in the movie.
But even the best of movies aren’t remembered for their small moments or lapses in theme. They are bought and sold on their broad notions. They are churned out on an assembly line, and those created for us need only a few rappers, some comedians and a few scenes of white folks doing the cabbage patch to be deemed an authentic hit.
Fans of “Soul Plane” will defend it by saying it’s just entertainment and that we should learn to laugh at ourselves. Laughing at ourselves is fine, even healthy.
Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock are both geniuses at it, but for every joke they make about crack heads or spinning rims, there are 50 more that offer valid comedic insight into our daily lives.
They prove that being black can be funny, whether you’re into Shyne or Shania Twain. We have things in common that run deeper than laughing at swishy gay men or the need to intimidate white people.
But with no black executive to greenlight such a film, and cookie-cutter comedies like “Bringing Down the House” making big bread, “Soul Plane” may be the best we get for a while, which makes laughing at ourselves seem less a priority.