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Rapping Rudy: Eminem makes his break for big-screen stardom in '8 Mile.'

Eminem Domain

Eminem can't rap his way out of this formulaic film

By Todd Inoue

IF YOU BELIEVE the hype surrounding Eminem, you'd think a movie about his life would be about smacking bitches and popping caps--an ignorant, oft-repeated refrain dismissing all hip-hop music. Behind all the controversy, Eminem is an extremely hot rapper with a talent for freestyling--rhyming off the top of the head--who fought through a difficult home life to achieve success. It is this side of his life he chooses to expose in 8 Mile.

The movie is loosely based on Eminem's life--mostly the whole trailer-park upbringing and his proximity to 8 Mile, the Detroit divide that separates the depressed white and black neighborhoods. It's a formulaic film for sure (underdog going for stardom) that borrows elements from Purple Rain and Rudy. Set in 1995 Detroit, Eminem plays Jimmy Smith (MC name: Bunny Rabbit), a kid with dreams of rap stardom, except he wasn't born with a silver microphone in his mouth. He lives in a trailer park, rolls with a crew of misfits and has an irresponsible mom (Kim Basinger) who's shacking up with his old high school buddy. Jimmy works at the steel plant to save up for studio time. To sharpen his skills, he breaks into the "ciphers"--impromptu freestyle rap sessions--hoping for his shot at a local battle at the hot underground club. During one entertaining moment, Jimmy holds his own against Xzibit. Among the misfits, Jimmy's crew includes battle organizer Future (Mekhi Phifer), who is his biggest cheerleader. Brittany "I'll Never Tell" Murphy plays Jimmy's love interest--an aspiring model who bangs other guys and dances like a hoochie.

Eminem is an OK actor. He wears a frustrated face for most of the movie, trying to make sense of his wacked-out family life, writing rhymes on public transportation and pondering his future after bombing at a freestyle battle. The face is rearranged by a rival rap crew, but he sorts out his personal dramas, some pennies drop from heaven and our hero returns to clear his name on the battle circuit.

Hip-hop is represented fairly. The songs of 1995--Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones," Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"--frame the picture in the correct era. The clutches and handshakes look authentic, and the freestyles are nice, but it doesn't take long for Hollywood to take dramatic license. 8 Mile plays up the racial aspect--the white guy gets clowned by the predominantly black crowd. Em's own come-up was more harmonious ("When I was underground, nobody gave a fuck I was white," he raps in "White America"). More cogent rap fans will call bullshit on other parts. They hang out at dress-to-impress hip-hop spots they probably could never afford. Without Future, the rest of his crew are some deadbeat, nonrapping guys who would be dropped like a dirty shirt. Most of all, no rapper would ever refuse to respond in a battle, no matter how tight and incisive the freestyle. Not at this level.

But that's OK. 8 Mile sells the fantasy rather than the reality. 8 Mile is the white trash Purple Rain or a rappin' Rudy. It's a formulaic film that could change the mind of his critics--Dick Cheney and Tipper Gore included.

8 Mile (R; 110 min.), directed by Curtis Hanson, written by Scott Silver, photographed by Rodrigo Prieto and starring Eminem, Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer and Brittany Murphy, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the November 14-20, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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