(director: Curtis Hanson; screenwriter: Scott Silver; cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto; editors: Craig Kitson/Jay Rabinowitz; music: Eminem; cast: Eminem (Jimmy Smith Jr./Rabbit), Taryn Manning (Janeanne), Anthony Mackie (Papa Doc), Kim Basinger (Stephanie Smith), Michael Shannon (Greg), Chloe Greenfield (Lily), Mekhi Phifer (Future/David Porter), Brittany Murphy (Alex), Eugene Byrd (Wink), Omar Benson Miller (Sol George), Evan Jones (Cheddar Bob), De’Angelo Wilson (D.J Iz); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brian Grazer/Jimmy Iovone/Curtis Hanson; Universal; 2002)
“If Eminem is a genius then Tiny Tim must be God.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Yo! “8 Mile” is a rags-to-better rags biopic set in 1995 in Motown (it was also shot in Detroit, giving it an authentic inner city look). It may or may not be about Eminem (the film character he plays certainly resembles the brooding rapper). Eminem plays the part of a skulking and sometimes shrill white rapper, whose name is Jimmy Smith Jr., a.k.a. Rabbit. He comes out of the rundown Detroit street of abandoned houses and strip clubs called 8 Mile (it separates the decaying predominantly-black inner city from the affluent predominantly-white suburbs to the north). He lives in a trailer-park with his down-and-out, boozer, Bingo-playing mom, Stephanie Smith (Kim Basinger), and his candy sweet young sister Lily (Chloe Greenfield), whom he protects at all costs. The targeted young white audience will probably identify and care a lot about Eminem- their 30 million album selling idol, while a black audience it is hoped will flock to see the film for the hip-hop music. The blacks do not make up most of the white star rapper’s fan base. But, pray tell me, what base was Basinger thinking about when she took this ridiculous white trash part as a loser? Who is she supposed to appeal to … the trailer-park crowd?
Rabbit’s thing is to battle the black rappers for supremacy of the local rap turf so he can get some respect, and also to get connections so he can become the Man and get himself a fat recording contract, get himself a good set of wheels, lots of chicks, and all sorts of other materialistic goodies–and move his white ass out of the neighborhood. Yo! I could just see myself getting all excited about him showing those black doubters that this poor white boy is better at their game than they are. The film for all its attempts to show the meaning of life for the oppressed through its music, is still as empty as a bag of wind. It’s a hoot to hear the doggerel expressed in the slam contest thought of as poetry. The rap consists of obnoxious woofs carried on for 45 seconds at a time and shouted out against an opponent, while emceed by Future as if it were a boxing contest. The street poetry is recited in angry spurts by Eminem, as he huffs and puffs and looks all bad in his ski cap. Things become even more ludicrous when Future refers to his white rapper brother as a genius. If Eminem is a genius then Tiny Tim must be God.
As is the case in the usual sports themed films — clichés rule the day, as the formulaic story of the underdog losing at first but then at the climax scene winning against all odds is again reworked into a film for the trillionth time. For all its bluster and pretensions to hipness, the all too familiar story is trite, boring, and lacking any force despite the loudness of its message. But it’s more tolerable than the similar musically themed ego-driven flick of Prince’s Purple Rain, which I realize is not saying much. 8 Mile benefits mostly from a stylishly depressing Motown cosmetic look provided by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Eminem’s ability to laugh at himself in a healthy way, some witty moments (when you can hear the dialogue over the loud rap music in the background), and mostly from the filmmaking craftmanship of “L.A. Confidential” director Curtis Hanson (“Wonder Boys“). Hanson even manages to slide in one arty reference to the great film director of the 1950s Douglas Sirk, by having Rabbit’s mom glued to the TV watching “Imitation of Life.” Now that was a great picture that had something significant to say about black-white relationships, something this film couldn’t do. But, unfortunately, no director could be expected to overcome the shallow script handed them by “The Mod Squad” screenwriter Scott Silver (it is rumored he was aided by the uncredited work of Jesse Wigutow), though Hanson sure gave it the old college try
At the Shelter, a rap club for the inner-city devotees of slam, the best local rappers battle it out for respect and recognition. This is where Rabbit chokes during the film’s opening rap slam to Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie) and to Papa’s backup group The Leaders of the Free World. Further bad things happen to Rabbit: he has broken up with his girlfriend Janeanne (Manning), he got fired from his pizza store job and starts serious work in a depressing car-bumper factory, and he comes home after his Shelter failure to find his mom fucking her boyfriend Greg (Shannon). The boyfriend is close to Rabbit’s age, which deeply embarrasses him. When the boyfriend gets hostile and unnecessarily woofs on the cheerless Rabbit, he gets his ass kicked despite mom being afraid her boyfriend will split after the beating. Meanwhile, Lily is reduced to slinking in the corner of the room frightened and upset at all the violence.
Soon Rabbit picks up the perfect slut as his new love interest, the sexy blonde temptress and wannabe model, Alex (Brittany Murphy), who’ll fuck anyone if it gets her to New York City. Even though this sexually experienced girl proves to be unfaithful, which might have surprised only him, on the positive side she never doubts him and remains loyal. This love story had about as much charm as one of the angry Eminem’s insensitive rap retorts. By the film’s end the white rapper shows he can trash himself and thereby take away his opponent’s main arguments against him, while he also goes for sympathy as the underdog when he acknowledges that he’s a white man playing the black man’s game.
The pic fills in time waiting for the finale with some diverting romantic scenes, a few gang fights over Rabbit’s girl and jealousy over Rabbit’s career moves, and the adventuresome buddy excursions in the Hood among the misfit members of Rabbit’s unnamed group of clichéd characters. The gang consisting of: Future as the wise and generous leader who is Rabbit’s main supporter; D.J Iz (De’Angelo Wilson) as the glasses wearing and socially concerned member; Sol George (Omar Benson Miller) as the overweight and playful one; and, Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones) as the fumbling nice white guy who provokes laughter at how uncool he is.
All the 8 dreary miles of this journey lead to the finale when Rabbit shows everyone he’s no scared rabbit, but he’s really a “dog;” and, thereby, most of the blacks in the Shelter embrace him as one of them when he takes care of his unfinished rap business with leader Papa Doc and his bunch of rowdies. These rappers are shown as the only ones in the rap scene who play the race card, and are put down for that if you can believe what this film is saying: race is no big thing in the rap scene.
The film leaves one with the sentimental Oprah inspirational message of the day — You gotta believe in yourself. If you do, you can be whoever you want to be. What the film never had going for it was the rawness it deserved. Eminem might be convincing in his straightforward role as a rapper, which for him hardly calls for acting, but he has no emotional acting range and he displayed no on-screen electricity. This one is strictly for Eminem fans who should like it, film critics who can’t believe this film isn’t as bad as they thought it might be, and those who want to visit the inner city rap scene from the safety of a movie theater and could care less that beneath this so-so film’s glossy surface it’s all a sham.
REVIEWED ON 11/15/2002 GRADE: C