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8 Mile

It becomes abundantly clear partway into 8 Mile that this is a familiar story wrapped up in a torrent of cursing and the world of rap. That doesn't mean this is a bad thing. The story is the same rise to stardom story that people absolutely love watching. Recent examples include Coyote Ugly, which was a guilty pleasure, and Glitter, which was a piece of junk. 8 Mile has the added bonus of being based loosely on the life of its star, controversial rapper Eminem. The funny thing about Eminem is how he manages to rile up so many people, who don't realize that controversy just makes him more popular. There is really nothing exceptionally controversial about his lyrics. Yes, they may be profane, misogynistic, and homophobic, but there are plenty of other artists out there just like him. However, few have his ability for insightful commentary, morbid comedy, and lyrical prowess. He appeared briefly in The Wash, but this is his first outing as an actor. Not only that, he is also the headlining actor.

The reason he succeeds masterfully is that it is not a large stretch for him. 8 Mile tells the story of a young white kid growing up in a poor section of Detroit, rapping his way through a mostly black community. He doesn't really get along with his mother (Kim Basinger, Bless the Child, I Dreamed of Africa). Sounds a lot like one of his songs. Anyway, he's instantly familiar with the material, and for the most part, his character is an angry young man. Plus, he has the gifted director Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys, LA Confidential) looking over his shoulder and guiding him. Hanson has a great gift for directing actors, and he is surely one of the reasons Eminem comes across so well. Scott Silver's (The Mod Squad, Johns) is fairly mundane. There is only one way this story can go, and everybody knows where it's going.

At the beginning of 8 Mile, Jimmy Smith Jr. aka Bunny Rabbit (Eminem) chokes badly at a rap contest. He doesn't even get a rhyme out. The crowd laughs him off stage. He broke up with his newly pregnant girlfriend and needs to move back in with his mom in a trailer park. The only job he can find is at a steel plant. Basically, his life sucks, and he realizes this. So there's nowhere to go but up. He dreams of making it big in the music business with his friends and he has real talent, but he needs to somehow overcome his fear. Can he do it? What fuels Rabbit and the story is rage. Everything that happens to him makes him mad, and he funnels this into his raps. His attacks are (mostly) verbal, deftly insulting his opponent in all possible ways. He finds kindred spirits in Future (Mekhi Phifer, Paid in Full, Impostor), his friend who emcees the rap battles, recognizes Rabbit's talents, and presses him to keep rapping, and Alex (Brittany Murphy, Riding in Cars with Boys, Don't Say a Word), an aspiring model who also wants to leave.

Still, Eminem is in nearly every shot of the movie and he is mesmerizing to watch. In a way, it helps that the material is familiar on two counts; the story is almost cliche and for the most part the public knows Eminem's persona. The Detroit setting is new, and Hanson favors a handheld camera for a more intimate feel. Everything is dark and in muted colors, and Rabbit and friends wander around crumbling buildings and lower class everything. Everything fits well together, and 8 Mile is a lot of fun for something so dark and moody. In the end, it relies on the story itself, which retains its inherent ebullientness despite being cloaked in dirt. Yes, it's familiar, but well done, so it is actually a lot of fun. And although the outcome of the final rap battle is blatantly obvious, but watching it still evokes feelings of excitement and suspense.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated R for strong language, sexuality, some violence, and drug use.

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