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8 Mile

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: 8 Mile

Starring: Eminem, Kim Basinger
Director: Curtis Hanson
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: November 2002
Genres: Drama, Music

*Also starring: Eugene Byrd, Taryn Manning, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer

Review by Jerry Saravia
2 stars out of 4

I have heard a couple of Eminem songs. My impression of this rap singer is summed up in one line in this film when he refers to a homosexual in both candid and politically correct terms. In other words, I sense Eminem's purpose is to address society's problems, familial conflicts and outright hypocrisy in everything we do. Some of that comes through in "8 Mile," his first leading role in a film, but the rest feels as disconnected as the main character does.

Eminem plays Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith, a rap artist in the making who works at a Detroit metal-stamping factory (the kind of place where ex-convicts work). He lives in a trailer with his lethargic, alcoholic mother, Stephanie (Kim Basinger) and his 5-year-old sister, Lily (Chloe Greenfield). His mother is dating a guy who was a former classmate of Rabbit's. Needless to say, Rabbit does not approve but he doesn't have to say so - his body language and frequent stares say it all.

Rabbit's world looks hopeless. He works long hours at the factory. He can't muster the courage to perform at a rap contest organized by MC Future (Meki Phifer) - the first time he comes onstage, he merely looks at the audience who boos him. His electric lyrics come through in impromptu raps at garages or at the factory. Rabbit has the talent to not only improvise - he can also mock his own life as a white-trash boy in such a way that his sincerity cuts through any rival rapper's ability to one-up him.

"8 Mile" works when focused on Rabbit's rapping interludes, and the coup de grace is seeing the climactic showdown where he tries to one-up another rapper whom you are sure has torn him to shreds. Never before have verbal duels been handled so thrillingly, and director Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") has the right directorial attitude to handle it. But when we resort to Rabbit's home life, his sexual dalliance with a wanna-be model (Brittany Murphy), and his constant bickering with Future and a possible record deal with a hustler (Eugene Bird), we feel about as bored stiff as if it was a second-rate TV-movie treatment of the same material. Particularly grating is to see Eminem give blank-faced reactions in almost every close-up (a similar problem pervaded "Purple Rain"). He has a solid, commanding presence but as an actor, he is virtually stolid. When he sees his ex-girlfriend in her apartment watching television, we see nothing but vacuousness in Eminem's eyes. It is a shame because there is more to Eminem than meets the eye but we never see it, we only hear it in his music.

Kim Basinger is not as bad as expected, though at times her accent borders on a Southerner's tongue - clearly not Detroit material. Still, she is not an embarrassment and chooses to tone down her usual overly-hysterical emotions when crying out for help. But the scene where she wins big at a bingo game feels out of place - she looks like a hooker rather a woman who just won money and bought bags of groceries.

Watching "8 Mile" is a curious experience. It has the roots of Rabbit's rise to the rap scene but none of the vigor or juice that we can connect with to understand his need to move forward, to escape. I assume the teenage and the twentysomething crowd may enjoy it regardless (my mother is a big fan). I think he has talent to spare but I am in the minority when it comes to appreciating rap music (I never have but times do change). Still, Eminem and the movie seem half-hearted, and I felt likewise.

Copyright 2002 Jerry Saravia

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