Credit Universal Studios for one thing: when it came time to create a trailer for "8 Mile," rap superstar Eminem's high-profile feature film debut, they made a damn good one. Maybe even the most invigorating and energized of the year. The finished product, however, pales deeply in comparison. Written by Scott Silver (1999's "The Mod Squad
") and directed by Curtis Hanson (1997's "L.A. Confidential," 2000's "Wonder Boys
"), "8 Mile" is gritty, downbeat, and more legitimate than, say, last year's Mariah Carey fiasco "Glitter
." It is also an unexciting telling of a by-the-numbers storyline, complete with character actions that don't make a lick of sense because of how underdeveloped they are.
Set in the slums of Detroit, circa 1995, Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith Jr. (Eminem) is a young factory worker who finds himself moving back into the trailer park home of his mother (Kim Basinger) after he breaks up with his allegedly pregnant girlfriend, Janeane (Taryn Manning), whom he leaves his car with. Loved by his baby sister, Lily (Chloe Greenfield), and despised by his mother's loutish boyfriend, Greg (Michael Shannon), Jimmy dreams of one day making it big as a rapper, but continuously freezes up in front of big crowds. He finds much-needed support in best friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), emcee at a local rap club, and potential new girlfriend Alex (Brittany Murphy), who is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Detroit.
When it was announced that a filmmaker of Curtis Hanson's stature was going to direct Eminem in a motion picture, one couldn't help but sit up and take notice. The treatment of the cliched story, however, is far below what Hanson has proven himself in the past to be capable of. A sort of rags-to-riches tale that ends after the achievement of success but before the earning of money, "8 Mile" is one of those movies where the central character goes against all odds to, at least for a moment, be happy. Everything that surrounds this plot, including many of the supporting characters, are so superfluous and disappointingly used it comes as a surprise that Hanson could be so unfocused. A needless scene in which Rabbit defends a harrassed gay coworker thuds with a resounding falseness.
The tale of Rabbit's dream of being a musician has been done so many times it ceases to be stimulating. More intriguing, but also more uneven and frustrating, are the subplots concerning his confused mother, who discovers she is being evicted, and his relationship with Alex. Going au naturale
, Kim Basinger (2000's "Bless the Child
") delivers the film's most powerful performance, as a woman who clings to unsavory men for reassurance even when she would be better off without them. As the confusingly loyal yet unfaithful Alex, Brittany Murphy (2001's "Don't Say a Word
") deserves better than what this terribly written role has to offer. Alex serves little purpose in the film, and even less by the end when she turns out to not be quite as savory as you would expect. At the same time, the audience is unfairly asked to forgive and like her.
As for Eminem, who has never acted before but is the only rapper I actually like, his performance is mostly natural and unforced. If this story is partially autobiographical, as has been speculated, then his turn is all the more impressive because it is more difficult to portray yourself in a movie than a different character. Although certainly not Oscar material, Eminem easily surpasses Mariah Carey's acting and about equals the underrated Britney Spears, from "Crossroads
The new hit Eminem single, "Lose Yourself," although prominently used in all of the advertising for "8 Mile," outrageously only shows up during the end credits. In fact, very little of Eminem's music is featured within, leading one to suspect severe false promotion. "8 Mile" has its share of effective moments, and isn't without merit, but ultimately collapses in sloppiness the further it artificially digs beneath the surface of its characters.
©2002 by Dustin Putman