Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
Credit Universal Studios for one thing: when it came time to create
a trailer for "8 Mile," rap superstar Eminem's high-profile feature
film debut, they made a damn good one. Maybe even the most invigorating
and energized of the year. The finished product, however, pales deeply
in comparison. Written by Scott Silver (1999's "The Mod Squad") and
directed by Curtis Hanson (1997's "L.A. Confidential," 2000's "Wonder
Boys"), "8 Mile" is gritty, downbeat, and more legitimate than, say,
last year's Mariah Carey fiasco "Glitter." It is also an unexciting
telling of a by-the-numbers storyline, complete with character actions
that don't make a lick of sense because of how underdeveloped they are.
Set in the slums of Detroit, circa 1995, Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith Jr.
(Eminem) is a young factory worker who finds himself moving back into
the trailer park home of his mother (Kim Basinger) after he breaks
up with his allegedly pregnant girlfriend, Janeane (Taryn Manning),
whom he leaves his car with. Loved by his baby sister, Lily (Chloe
Greenfield), and despised by his mother's loutish boyfriend, Greg
(Michael Shannon), Jimmy dreams of one day making it big as a rapper,
but continuously freezes up in front of big crowds. He finds much-needed
support in best friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), emcee at a local rap
club, and potential new girlfriend Alex (Brittany Murphy), who is
willing to do whatever it takes to get out of Detroit.
When it was announced that a filmmaker of Curtis Hanson's stature
was going to direct Eminem in a motion picture, one couldn't help
but sit up and take notice. The treatment of the cliched story, however,
is far below what Hanson has proven himself in the past to be capable
of. A sort of rags-to-riches tale that ends after the achievement
of success but before the earning of money, "8 Mile" is one of those
movies where the central character goes against all odds to, at least
for a moment, be happy. Everything that surrounds this plot, including
many of the supporting characters, are so superfluous and disappointingly
used it comes as a surprise that Hanson could be so unfocused. A needless
scene in which Rabbit defends a harrassed gay coworker thuds with a resounding falseness.
The tale of Rabbit's dream of being a musician has been done so many
times it ceases to be stimulating. More intriguing, but also more
uneven and frustrating, are the subplots concerning his confused mother,
who discovers she is being evicted, and his relationship with Alex.
Going au naturale, Kim Basinger (2000's "Bless the Child") delivers
the film's most powerful performance, as a woman who clings to unsavory
men for reassurance even when she would be better off without them.
As the confusingly loyal yet unfaithful Alex, Brittany Murphy (2001's
"Don't Say a Word") deserves better than what this terribly written
role has to offer. Alex serves little purpose in the film, and even
less by the end when she turns out to not be quite as savory as you
would expect. At the same time, the audience is unfairly asked to forgive and like her.
As for Eminem, who has never acted before but is the only rapper I
actually like, his performance is mostly natural and unforced. If
this story is partially autobiographical, as has been speculated,
then his turn is all the more impressive because it is more difficult
to portray yourself in a movie than a different character. Although
certainly not Oscar material, Eminem easily surpasses Mariah Carey's
acting and about equals the underrated Britney Spears, from "Crossroads."
The new hit Eminem single, "Lose Yourself," although prominently used
in all of the advertising for "8 Mile," outrageously only shows up
during the end credits. In fact, very little of Eminem's music is
featured within, leading one to suspect severe false promotion. "8
Mile" has its share of effective moments, and isn't without merit,
but ultimately collapses in sloppiness the further it artificially
digs beneath the surface of its characters.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman