I think I liked Eminem better when he was an asshole. Marshall "Slim Shady" "Eminem" Mathers (pick a name, bro) was fond of saying "I’m so misunderstood, man!" about two years ago. His lyrics were misconstrued and he became a poster-boy for the PC movement against rap. These days he’s making it more clear that there’s a difference between a gay guy and a "faggot," and there are no songs about raping or killing his mom on the new album, but at least two years ago he was controversial.
The last thing Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile
, or Rocky IV Dressed Up In Baggy Jeans and Skull Caps
, should be called is controversial. Making sure to offend absolutely no one in the audience, lily white producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, EdTV, Sgt. Bilko
) has put together a film that dares to say that success is good and failure is bad. Stop the presses and get ready for the protesters.
First, we get all the hoary old gettin’-out-of-the-ghetto clichés (like Alex’s "I’m gonna be a model in New York!" or Rabbit’s "I’ma get me a demo tape, yeah" mantra). But what’s so bad about the ghetto in 8 Mile
? There’s virtually no threat of violence (unless you shoot yourself in the groin in a comic relief scene), and the worst thing that can happen to you when thugs step up is a black eye. And if you live in a trailer, chances are good you’ll still be sleeping with hot chicks (check out the hilariously bad sex scene staged in a mechanical plant that’s so choreographed that it has all the spontaneity of HTML code -- I think I saw a crew member in the background checking off body movements on a clipboard: "Hand on ass, check. Heavy breathing, check. Stare deeply into eyes, check.").
The only events of any significance in this overlong story are the rap battles that open and close the film, and while Eminem does show off his skills, the scenes are still hopelessly contrived. Not only are they more predictable than Kevin Costner’s box office figures, but there seems to be a rule that whoever raps second in the battle wins. The only time the first rapper wins is when the second rapper chokes and has nothing to say (this happens twice). Why can’t there be one instance where a guy raps, is great, then another guy raps, and isn’t as good, so the crowd votes the first guy the victor? Because it doesn’t make for Hollywood drama, that’s why.
Credit for the shit screenplay goes to Scott Silver, who wrote The Mod Squad
, which has the dubious distinction of being the single worst film of 1999, a year that also contained Dogma, 10 Things I Hate About You
, and Ravenous
. Silver’s dialogue (with a little improv help from the "street" actors) makes liberal use of the words ‘dog,’ ‘trip,’ and ‘word,’ but forgets to add any sense of realism or originality. There’s no suspense in the outcome, no sequence that didn’t fall off the back of a Robert McKee dumptruck (the first act is one bald exposition scene after another -- I expected Michael York to pop up on the TV screen in Rabbit’s beat-up car to explain more of the plot), and worst of all, not a single well-developed character. Second fiddle (otherwise known as the black-best-friend in Hollywood films) Mekhi Phifer plays Future, a guy whom I can barely admit has one dimension, let alone three. Devoid of personality or a life beyond the protagonist, Future’s sole purpose in life is to stand around conflicting with, then benefiting from, the protagonist. The same goes for every other hood in the hood, not to mention Rabbit’s hard-drinking, strong-cursing mother, played by Oscar-winner Kim Basinger (My Stepmother Is An Alien
) in a performance so bad it rivals Dan Aykroyd’s in Crossroads as the worst supporting turn of the year.
That brings us to Rabbit himself, played by Eminem in a performance that’s not bad -- you don’t really see false moments or clunky line readings -- but it’s completely cold and self-conscious. Refusing to lighten up even for a minute, Mathers has one expression on his face the whole time and even his idea of what constitutes a sense of humor is just one insult after another during raps. [By the way, the scene in which Rabbit defends the plant's token gay during an impromptu battle is just an attempt to spell out Eminem's appeal to PC police for the kindergarteners in the audience who don't understand his lingo, and lest we think Em's too chummy with the poofties, not 60 seconds later he's boning a chick and suckin' titties; what a cowardly, calculated manuever that just illuminates the agenda behind the film]. Maybe someday a director better than Hanson will capture a moment of self-effacing charm or a smile from Slim Shady, but this film doesn’t contain it. His character, who gets to spend his screen time shaking his head at cardboard villains and sweet-talking a sister young enough to be his daughter, should be the backbone for the movie to make a point or suggest questions. But what is there to think about when you leave the theater showing 8 Mile
? How are we challenged at all? If there was one pop star I never thought would make a toothless, dull-witted, obvious, formulaic, filthy 7th Heaven
episode, it’s Eminem. At the Santa Barbara theater where I saw this, the audience contained young blacks, kids, middle-aged white couples, and an elderly woman in an electric wheelchair, smiling during the closing credits and chatting about Detroit. Somewhere, Brian Grazer is lighting a cigar with a $100-bill.