8 Mile 1.0 stars

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Synopsis

Screen debut of rapper Eminem, a pop-star acting vehicle not unlike some of the more serious (everything being relative) of the early Elvis vehicles: Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, Wild in the Country. (The Eminem character is even addressed on occasion as "Elvis.") On the score of "realism," one cannot fault the views of the ravaged urbanscape of modern Detroit (Michael Moore territory) or the trailer-park squalor of the hero's home life; and Eminem himself, who came out of this background, does nothing in his acting to dispel the illusion. But all this grit goes only so far to cover up a hip-hop Rocky centered around a blue-eyed, blue-collar rapper who freezes on stage during the opening "battle" -- forty-five seconds apiece to trash an opponent in rhythm and rhyme -- and who ultimately redeems himself in the climactic rematch. What happens in between is a sub-Scorsese series of scrapes and scuffles threaded together by a plotless blur of "What the fuck, man!" and "What's your fucking problem?" (Eminem, despite his runty size and his perpetual deer-in-the-headlights look of fright, holds his own in the physical battles, too.) And the grit, such as it is, never gets so thick as to blacken the rosy image of rap music as the voice of liberation: just what our Founding Fathers had envisioned for the disenfranchised youths of the inner cities. The un-PC "gangsta" element has been all but eliminated, and although the personal vituperation in these "battles" leads naturally to challenges of an opponent's manhood -- which lead naturally to imputations of homosexuality -- our hero will not descend to such depths. He descends instead to the level of the grade-school playground where a rival will be perceived as vulnerable on the basis that his given name is Clarence. As in Darrow. With Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy, Kim Basinger; directed by Curtis Hanson.

Duncan Shepherd

Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Rated: R

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