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8 Mile

Is it just me or is everyone just getting angrier and angrier?

Oppressive angst has always been with us, and music has been an outlet for years, from Elvis to the Sex Pistols to Tiffany (I Think We're Alone Now- i.e. finally away from those damn, oppressive adults who try to run our lives and make us conform to some conservative ideology that leaves us unthinking automatons.).

But these days, angst, anger and glowering meaningfully have been elevated to a new art form (at least until our children grow up and decide that Offspring and Dr. Dre are just too cheery for them). The current King of Ferocious Anger is Eminem, and as he's the first white guy to score absolutely huge with the latest black music, he's the first to get his own "Down with Man" serious movie. (Ice Cube and Ice-T not withstanding, they begin to seem tame and part of the establishment by now, which must really piss them off.)

And so we get 8 Mile, a movie about a white rapper in Detroit trying to prove his worth in a dark, depressing reality of poverty and hopelessness.

Maybe it's a sign of the times that the film specifically takes place in 1995. As if to say "This is already kinda dated, no one acts like this anymore, but this is what it was like in the old days, like back when Friends was a pretty new show." Or maybe Eminem just wanted to do a period piece, who knows.

8 Mile tells the story of B. Rabbit, also known as Jimmy, also known as the white guy who thinks he can rap, also known as Dawg. (In fact, every single character in the film is also known as Dawg, but I digress.) Jimmy has just broken up with his girlfriend and moved back into the trailer park with his mother and little sister. Friday night, he participates in a "rap battle" where two rappers stand on stage and dis each other for 45 seconds. Whoever disses better (keeping the beat and making clever rhymes along the way) wins. Jimmy stands as his big black competitor rips him a new one, then when it's Jimmy's turn, he freezes, can't get a word out, and loses.

Suddenly the movie has a plot. Will Jimmy find his voice? Will he be able to get back up on stage and dis the brother man?

We're told by Jimmy's friends that he's really good, he's got great lines and can bring a can of whoop-ass down from Heaven (that's my analogy, not the film's). We also see Jimmy join in some spontaneous rap battles, in a parking lot, in line at the lunch truck, etc. He is pretty good, I guess. Not like I'd know. But some of the kids in the audience cheered when he dissed people, so that must mean he was good at it.

Basically, it all just kinda seemed like a modern day West Side Story to me.

Except West Side Story had a plot.

Not that 8 Mile doesn't have a plot, but the truth is, when the movie ends, nobody has changed. Nobody has grown. Nobody has learned anything. Not a single character has had anything resembling an arc, and you know without a fact that the events in the movie haven't affected the characters in any way whatsoever. So what was the point?

There are subplots o-plenty to go around. His mother has a dead beat boyfriend who we all hate. Jimmy meets a skanky ho that he falls for and has a more or less complete relationship with ups and downs and everything in between in a week. A guy Jimmy knows wants Jimmy to leave his homeboys and record a demo with him, so Jimmy has that whole issue hanging over his head. His car won't start. He's under a lot of pressure. And all of this fits into one week. It's a pretty busy week.

Do these subplots resolve themselves? Well, sure. But they resolve themselves just so everyone can go through them again next week. Mother gets a happy ending which hasn't changed her in the least, and you know that a few months down the road she'll be right back where she was at the start of the film. Jimmy and Skanky Ho breeze through each other's lives to little or no effect.

The film is directed by Curtis Hanson, who directed L.A. Confidential. That was a great movie, and he's a very good director. 8 Mile feels like he did all he could, but in the end, this is still a film about people rapping at each other. It's sorta like if Steven Speilberg directed Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.

We never get to really tap into Jimmy's potential. Sure he can rap spontaneously, but is he the tortured artist he wants to be? We see him write lyrics down throughout the movie, but never get to hear them. So why is he writing them? For the good of his soul?

With all of this in mind, one must ask oneself, was this movie enjoyable? And yes, it actually was mildly enjoyable. If you were thinking of seeing it because you are interested in Eminem and hip hop, then by all means, indulge yourself. If you think Eminem is the Anti-Christ, you might want to stay away. Not that they don't try to clean him up a bit for Hollywood. The film is filled with drugs and guns and drinking, and yet, Jimmy himself never touches any of it. His character is, deep down, a good person (except he has unprotected sex, which just makes him stupid). He's prone to fits of rage, but he loves his little sister, and that makes all the difference, right? Never mind that in the opening sequence, we learn that Eminem has just left his girlfriend, whom he believes is pregnant. Never mind that he makes some less than brilliant choices during the film. Never mind that he still curses up a swarm. That's the way it is in his world. He's the good guy, and don't you forget it.

8 Mile raps up 2 3/4 Babylons. Hype aside, it's a pretty shallow film. Eminem does a fine job as an actor, and he's quite likeable (let's face it, whatever "Star Quality" is, he's got it), but all the talk of critical awards and acclaim is a bit overstated. This movie is a product of timing. If it were released in another two years or so, it'd flop.

Editor's Note:

I personally find the whole hip hop thing somewhat amusing, kind of like watching a live poetry reading.

Rated: R
Directed By: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Eugene Byrd, Evan Jones and Xzibit. I'm not kidding, Xzibit. If that's not the greatest name in the world, I don't know what is. Silly kids these days. Xzibit. Awesome.

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