A review of “8 Mile” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for language, sexuality, and violence.

Run Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

 

 

The rumors are true.  Nihilistic urban rapper Eminem has “It” in front of the camera.  That effortless dissolve of space that signals a chemistry with the viewer, prevailing over the nagging interference of boom mikes, camera people, and sets. 

The buzz is not true.  Despite Eminem’s simmering performance, “8 Mile” is a conventional, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes drama with Detroit’s hip hop scene as its grim backdrop.

Economic and racial pressures pervade the very existence of Jimmy Smith, Jr. (Eminem), aka B. Rabbit.  By day, Jimmy navigates his way through a bleak existence with a factory job, a mom (Kim Basinger) shacked up in a trailer park with his former classmate, and a dead-end relationship with his girl. But by night, Jimmy is hanging with his crew, feeding their dreams in Detroit’s darkened hip hop clubs and battling each others’ emotions with quick-witted and abusive prose.

 Divided by the city’s historical 8 Mile Road, the rappers are segregated by black and white, haves and have-nots.   That’s pretty much all she wrote, as Curtis Hanson’s (“L.A. Confidential”) gritty ode to finding one’s voice peters out to a whisper. 

Supporting players, including the charismatic Mekhi Phifer as best-friend Future, lend their professional cool to the proceedings, but there’s not a hell of a lot of narrative to work with. Boy ekes out a living.  Boy meets hot girl (a one-note Brittany Murphy).  Boy dreams of making it big. Only when Eminem is strutting his stuff, in cavernous but stifling rental halls, does the electricity truly flow.  Wounded and enigmatic, he’s a worthy focus.

“Rocky” for the new millennium?  I think not.  But Eminem has a solid future as an actor, should he tire of provoking us with his music.