There are times when I don't even know what a movie is about before reviewing it. All I knew was that "Soul Man" was a release of some 80's comedy by Anchor Bay, complete with commentary from Steve Miner, the director behind such hits as the Rick Moranis/Tom Arnold vehicle "Big Bully" and the long-running (well, it only showed twice, but the episodes were an hour, that's pretty long) TV drama "Wasteland". His recent attempt at a Western, "Texas Rangers", sat on the shelf for nearly two years.
But the guy's work can't be all bad, right? Well, as I continue to view the director's work, all signs point to the contrary. Miner and star C. Thomas Howell even both state at the begining of the included commentary track that, "this was a good idea at one point, right?". Howell plays a rich kid in California who is thrilled when he's accepted to Harvard, but depressed when his millionaire father decides that the best thing that he could do would be to pay for the entire four years himself - kind of last minute notice.
He decides to change his appearance and fraudulently apply for a scholarship for African-American students. He gets into the college, falls in love with a beautiful fellow student (Rae Dawn Chong) and also faces the racism that exists. Written by Carol Black (TV's "Growing Pains"), the movie doesn't really know what it wants to be; it attempts to face issues, but then turns into light comedy. As a result, the movie's humor doesn't work; not only is there really nothing that amusing about the situation, the timing is rather weak and Howell's performance isn't as good as the remainder of the cast.
Overall, "Soul Man" never really gets going; the humor doesn't work very well and rather than a mixture of sincere drama and comedy, the film isn't very interested in the issues and the comedy is strictly sitcom-level.
VIDEO: Anchor Bay gives "Soul Man" a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that is considerably better than the film deserves. Sharpness and detail are a bit consistent, but very good and occasionally even great. Only a few interiors and dark scenes appear a bit softer. The picture does have some slight grain and a speck or two at times, but the print appears surprisingly clean and crisp, otherwise. Colors remain natural, but don't appear bright and did seem a little faded once or twice.
SOUND: The 2.0 audio remains very basic, with the dated score and dialogue sounding clear and fairly crisp. Very little other touches or ambient sounds are present.
MENUS: Fairly basic film-themed images serve as backgrounds, but there's music playing during the main menu.
EXTRAS: A commentary from director Steve Miner and star C. Thomas Howell is provided. The two are occasionally amusing and informative when they do speak, but there are several lengthy gaps between discussion. The trailer and teaser trailer are included.
Final Thoughts: I didn't think "Soul Man" was funny or interesting, but apparently, it does have a considerable fan base. Those who enjoy the film will be pleased with the DVD, which has good audio/video quality and a low price of $14.95 or less.