Waiting in the colossal line of kids eager to purchase tickets to the new film “8 Mile,” Eminem’s most recent number one hit “Lose Yourself” could be heard piped over the theater stereos and audience members mouthed the words in unison. It occurred to Artsweek that the rhymin’ white boy from Motor City, with all his trademark angst, has appropriated an already proven film outline as the convenient vehicle to smother pop culture. Like the J. Lo’s and Britneys, Eminem is a media mogul. His crossed arm scowl stares back from half a dozen magazines the same week Em’s tunes and flick reign supreme. The difference? He’s actually talented.
Even still, Em’s pocket’s bulge from the 50 million dollars looted by theaters over opening weekend, all while coveting face time on (shocker!) MTV’s “Movie House,” as well as his much-hated launch pad, “Total Request Live.” Though “8 Mile” is indeed worth a good bit of the hype, it’s merely a heavily treaded, well-positioned spike used to anchor down Eminem’s dominance in mainstream entertainment.
Like you failed to notice, the film is loosely (okay, okay) based on Em’s real ascent to stardom – out of the Midwestern music Mecca, Detroit – showing us a not-so-cleverly played out string of events. Jimmy Smith Jr., or “Rabbit,” as he is called, must struggle with poverty, racial tensions and a string of sliggidy slut women that seem to foul up every mildly joyous moment, all while pursuing hopes of becoming a successful hip hop artist.
Director Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential,” “Wonder Boys”) takes the viewers into a storyline that feels reminiscent of “Saturday Night Fever” in that “my-talent-is-the-only-ticket-outta-urban-hell” sense. Like the cheeseball MTV film “Save the Last Dance,” the audience wants to root for the square white peg stuck in the black circular hole, but inevitably feels guilty. Rooting for Rabbit to shame his arch-rap-battle nemesis, Papa Doc, reminds that his hip hop victory is another triumph of the Anglos copping the right ‘tude to snatch another black art form.
Screenwriter Scott Silver (“The Mod Squad”) recognizes this need to amend the bridges that real-life hip hop star Eminem has burned, so that “Rabbit” becomes a much kinder, gentler version: He’s got the gay guy’s back, isn’t down with guns and wants nothing more than to cuddle with his kid sister. It may be a tricky pill to swallow, but it doesn’t mean Em can’t pull it off. His stoic shell slides comfortably off in the most poignant scenes with best friend and local rap-battle MC, Future (Mekhi Pfiefer), as they improvise self-deprecating words to “Sweet Home Alabama” while in Rabbit’s trailer park.
Surprisingly, it’s the female roles in the film that are the least likable and almost disturbing. While making amends to every minority group Em might’ve pissed off over the last few years, he seems in no hurry to shower lovin’ on the women. His mother, Stephanie (Kim Basinger), is introduced to viewers in a trashy sex scene, which becomes the hallmark for all the females. She grovels, and self-loathes in one of the worst southern accents, while Rabbit’s flame, Alex (Brittany Murphy), fares as poorly. She freakishly stares with oversized, drug-hazed eyes through most of her scenes. If not spread eagle, she’s fantasizing about modeling or writhing on the dance floor. Enough said.
“8 Mile”, named for the road that racially divides the poor Detroit suburbs, succeeds in many of its endeavors. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto effectively paints the film in metallic blues and grays, making Detroit into one giant bruise of a city. As an actor, Eminem showcases the star appeal we never doubted the silver screen would elicit, though it questions if playing a version of oneself creates a triumphant thespian. The plotline is undoubtedly weak, but feverishly exciting camera work, along with some of the best battle-rhymes ever spouted, gloss the cracks over nicely. But Artsweek still feels unsure whether well-charted devices such as these mask the use of a so-so movie as a platform for a morally ambiguous idol to step farther into the already blazing spotlight.