8 Mile (review)

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The Eminem Show

8 Mile. Also known as The Eminem Movie. Because everyone knows that anyone who sells lots of CDs will automatically sell lots of movie tickets.

Notice that I did not say that “everyone knows that anyone who can sing can also act.” I don’t know if rapping is singing — if anything, it’s spoken poetry, in Eminem’s case, misogynistic, homophobic spoken poetry. (Or, if you’re trying to sell movie tickets, “controversial” spoken poetry.) And it’s hard to tell if Eminem can act, because here the Detroit-raised rapper plays a Detroit-raised rapper.

Yes, to the degree that he doesn’t look into the camera and delivers his lines with a reasonable degree of conviction, Eminem acquits himself well onscreen. But he doesn’t exactly go out on a limb, and it’s impossible to tell if he’d be able to pull off playing anyone other than himself. Of course, Elvis had a lot of success in films playing himself, and 8 Mile really isn’t anything more than an Elvis film, except there’s a lot more sex and violence than Blue Hawaii and the music video sequences feature creative profanity instead of surfboards.
Eminem plays a poor white kid from the wrong side of Detroit’s 8 Mile Road. He lives in a trailer with his mom, Kim Basinger (Bless the Child). You can tell this is meant to be gritty and real because Basinger doesn’t wear any makeup, except the purplish bruise kind of makeup where her boyfriend is supposed to have hit her. Also, even though she lives on pancakes and beer and god knows what else, she still has the body of a Playboy bunny. She’s not very nice to Eminem, but neither are his ex-girlfriend, Taryn Manning (White Oleander, Crossroads), or his new girlfriend, Brittany Murphy (Don’t Say a Word, Sidewalks of New York), cuz all bitches is hos, I guess. The only bitch who ain’t a ho is his little sister, but she’s still watching Sesame Street so it’s just that she’s too little to be even a junior ho yet. But give her time.

This is a story about the black side of town, and about black music, but our hero is of course white. They’re still not sure about rap out in Middle America, which seems to extend to the edges of America these days, but at least it’s a white boy they’re squinting at suspiciously. He may be reformable. It was the same with Elvis. But at least there are some black people here, like Mekhi Phifer (Shaft), a local — very local — rap impresario who sees big things for Eminem. But most of the black characters aren’t very nice to Eminem either. Poor, poor Eminem, so misunderstood and unappreciated. But he’s alive when he raps — that is, he’s alive when he is insulting other people in pseudosong — and maybe this is his ticket outta here.

I’d tell you Eminem’s character’s name, but it’s really very silly. Remember that the script is brought to you by Scott Silver, who is responsible, as writer and director, for one of the most incomprehensible movies ever committed to celluloid, 1999’s The Mod Squad. It makes you wonder what director Curtis Hanson was thinking — he goes from L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys to this? He does a bang-up job — maybe that’s an indelicate term to use around musicians who carry guns instead of guitars — and gives the film a veneer of respectability it wouldn’t otherwise have, and distracts us from the air of inconsequence hanging over it.

Cuz when you get down to it in the end, 8 Mile isn’t about anything other than watching Eminem do some rap on film — those are the only sequences where the movie really comes to life, even if they do make you think of Saturday Night Fever, only with a less distinctive wardrobe. You could pretty much watch the same thing on MTV, or just pop in your Eminem’s CDs, if you’re particularly excited about the idea of listening to Eminem rap. And if you aren’t, there’s nothing here for you.

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