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Film review: 'Soul Power' squanders potential

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Miriam Makeba in "Soul Power."

Antidote Films

SOUL POWER — ★★ — Documentary feature about the Zaire '74 concert; with English subtitles (African dialects); rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, violence, slurs, brief drugs, nude art); Broadway Centre

No other movie this year does so little with so much as "Soul Power."

After all, this documentary features footage from Zaire '74, a now legendary, three-day concert event in Africa that boasted performances by James Brown, the Spinners, Bill Withers, B.B. King, Sister Sledge, Celia Cruz and others.

Yet the movie is surprisingly dry and flavorless. It certainly doesn't help that filmmaker Jeffrey Levy-Hinte put this collection of footage together without any narration and with a bare minimum of narrative captions.

If you had no idea who these people were and what the significance of the concert was, you'd be lost.

Essentially this is a compilation of footage of the concert, which was supposed to coincide with the so-called "Rumble in the Jungle," the equally historic 1974 heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman — who was holding the belt at that time.

Foreman's health issues postponed that bout. Still, the concert went on as scheduled in the impoverished African country (now known as Democratic Republic of the Congo).

"Soul Power" is meant to be an accompaniment to the 1996 documentary "When We Were King," which covered the title bout. It pales in comparison.

For example, did we really need to see Brown signing autographs, or sit through an interminable scene in which Ali is shown spooning copious amounts of sugar into his cup of coffee?

However, it is fun to see Brown, the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Soul" — even if Withers nearly steals the whole show with a stunning solo rendition of "Hope She'll Be Happier."

"Soul Power" is rated PG-13 and features some strong profanity and language (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), suggestive references and dance moves, some brief violent content (boxing sparring and some clowning around), derogatory language and slurs (based on race and national origin), brief drug references (medications and narcotics), and glimpses of nude art (statues). Running time: 93 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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