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After small meteor rocks fall on Detroit,
Eminem is able to lift heavy steal beams
through the power of rhyme.

8 Mile
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Did I ever have high hopes for this one.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a big fan of Eminem's rhymes, and love to hear him rap his way through his rags-to-riches life story.  When I found out they were making a movie "loosely" based on Em's (AKA - Marshall Mathers) past, my heart was all a flutter.  With Curtis Hanson, the genius behind L.A. Confidential, directing the picture, this could really be something special. 

How would Hanson transform the tragic tales Eminem keeps spitting out into a 2 hour film?  How would he shape a sympathetic leading character out of a white-trash, mother-beating, wife-killing, bully-baiting, drug-abusing, homophobe with a chip on his shoulder bigger than a leftover chunk of the World Trade?  No matter how Hanson handled the transformation, it was sure to be interesting, and unlike anything we had ever seen before. 

Or would it?

In a horrible world of irony where people like Eminem were no less a corporate product than Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, Hanson could take the freezer-burned ball of Chunky Monkey Ice Cream that is Eminem's raps and melt it down into a DQ puddle of vanilla soft serve; but we're not in that world, and Em wouldn't allow for that, right?  He's a gangsta, mutha-fucka, and he would walk away from any project that had him playin' it safe rather than keepin' it real.  This guy ain't clownin', yo!   

Or is he?

I became slightly apprehensive upon hearing the single for 8 Mile, appropriately titled, "Lose Yourself."  The only thing Eminem seemed to "lose" with this song was his ability to rap ("his palms are sweaty...arms are heavy...vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti").  This -- his tamest of tunes -- was obviously written to be a crossover success.  A stab at grabbing a hold of the few Christian rappers who had previously boycotted his sinful music.  The fact that it became his first number one single proves that the strategy may have worked. 

Is Eminem losing his edge?  Musically, there is no doubt.  His last CD, while still incredible, wasn't nearly as controversial as the two that came before, and this new song sounds more, "Eye of the Tiger" than it does, "Kill You."  Its message is so damn motivational that I wouldn't be surprised if the number of car accidents didn't increase each time the song plays, from people taking their hands off of the steering wheel to lift them to the heavens and scream, "HALLELUJAH!" as Eminem mumbles, "you can do anything you set your mind to, man." 

Needless to say, hearing Em's Justin Timberlake rap didn't bode well for the harsh reality I thought 8 Mile would depict on film.  Maybe Eminem, like Elvis Presley before him, was trading "hardcore" for "movie star."  If he's willing to make a single this watered-down, washed-up and coolly calculated to bring in big box office for his film, who's to say his film won't be just as watered-down and washed-up?  Oh, did I hope that that wouldn't be the case. 

Sadly, it is.

What we have here is The Karate Kid with lots of profanity.  The way 8 Mile tells it, Eminem -- whose nick is shrewdly changed to "Bunny Rabbit" -- is this great son, always caring for and defending his mother (Kim Basinger), working hard at a crummy job (he's not working at Burger King, spittin' in your onion rings), and rapping on the side.  This Eminem wonders when he needs to stop "living up there" and start "living down here," or some such thing (the dialogue in this film is far from memorable).  He's not really a dreamer, but a shy sort of guy pushed into entering these rap contests by his enthusiastic friend, who just knows he can make it, if he could stop choking on stage! 

The only noteworthy female role in the film goes to the miscast Kim Basinger, who does an okay job playing trailer trash.  There are two other female "stars" in the film.  Teryn Manning is in what amounts to a cameo role, playing Rabbit's desperate ex, who claims that she's pregnant.  I think she gets about 2 minutes screen time.  The other female star in the film is Brittany Murphy, playing Rabbit's new girlfriend, Alex.  She squeezes into about 15 minutes of the movie, but the entire time she's used as nothing more than a plot device, and is never developed as a character.  Most of the men aren't given much of a chance to show their acting chops, either.  As a matter of fact, if your name isn't, "Eminem," your role is about as significant as a camp counselor in the Friday the 13th films.

8 Mile serves as an outline written to give Marshall Mathers material for his leap into the mainstream.  This is the sanctified "Hollywood" version of Eminem; one that would open doors for little old ladies, and help the blind to see (props to A. Cooper).  It's  not the Em audiences are lining up to root for.  In a scene toward the end, Eminem ... er ... "Bunny Rabbit" pulls down his pants to moon the man he's rapping against, and the audience sort of giggled.  It was nice to hear, being that there had been no noise coming from this packed auditorium over the past 90 minutes, other than a few sighs and the shuffling of feet as people went off to the bathroom, to see if anything more exciting than the lines in this film were scratched into the walls of the toilet stalls.  Even though the mooning wasn't much, this was the comical, middle-finger in the air, Eminem his diehard fans know and love.

You can't say the audience didn't try.  This group of teens was more than ready to scream and cheer for their hero.  When the words "Eminem" came across the screen during the beginning credits, the whole place went crazy.  People expected this movie to bring his raunchy raps to life.  What nobody expected was a stale tale of some dude hanging out with his buddies in Detroit, doing nothing more controversial than shooting paint at a couple of street signs. 

Where was the pill popping?  Where was the gratuitous sex?  Where was the girlfriend tied up in the trunk?  Where was the outrageous and rebellious Eminem people paid to see?  Sure, this movie is a lot more comfortable than a film based on Em's raps would have been, but it's also far more conventional and so paper thin that the former "king of controversy" was able to cram the entire plot into one little crossover rap song that's currently playing at a radio station near you.

On a scale of 1-10?

4

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Text (Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].

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