Wednesday, November 09, 2005

REVIEW: Get Rich or Die Tryin'

This marks 2005's second big attempt, following "Hustle & Flow," to try and turn the thugs-to-riches creation mythology of gangsta rap into compelling cinema. It fails FAR more spectacularly than "Hustle" did, but for much the same reason: The hip-hop creation mythology is, at this point, played out to the extreme.

The film basically exists as a 2 hour and 14 minute infomercial for the music of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. His fans are known to refer to him as "Fiddy," which is kind of remarkable in that it manages to celebrate idiocy on two levels: The idiocy of refering to a grown man by his teenaged street-thug nickname and the idiocy of intentionally mispronouncing common words in order to "keep it real."

Just for the record here: Yes, I'm a 25 year-old white man. Yes, I was among that generation of suburban white kids who helped make gangsta rap such a phenomenon back in the early 90s during it's brief initial brush with actually feeling like the "poetry of the streets" it can now only pretend to be. Yes, I like hip-hop. I'm NOT, however, a fan of Mr. Cent's work. I've found his vocals flat, the beats derrivative and his lyrics trite... how many times can you hear one man praise himself in verse, honestly?

Mr. Cent appears here as Marcus, who leads a life more or less identical to the outline of the ballyhooed 50 Cent origin story. Sing along if you know the words: His mother was a murdered coke dealer. He became a crack dealer and went to jail. He got out and wanted to rap. He rapped about how much tougher he was than other rappers in his circle. He got shot nine times. He got better. He parlayed "I got shot nine times!" into the ultimate badge of street-cred "real"ness and became a star, despite his act never really improving.

"Fiddy" is, putting it mildly, a terrible actor. He mumbles his lines in monotone, has nothing in the way of facial expression and mainly just glowers at the camera. He has no distinct onscreen personality, and if not for providing the film's narration he would be swallowed up entirely by his own movie.

But the script is a bigger problem. This character (and, apparently by extension, the man playing him) hasn't really learned anything or gone through any great arc. In a way, "Fiddy's" success stands more as the ultimate indictment of the rap genre as largely bankrupt, not as a triumph. But "Fiddy" seems convinced that his story is heroic, and so the film turns out scene after scene where the imagery is ordering us to be awed by this man's journey while I'M stuck wondering why I'm supposed to care.

It's also stuck with some utterly laughable dialogue. At one point, a drug gang kingpin has a hillariously awful speech about violence begetting more violence, not more money. And later, after Marcus complains that his gunshot wounds have changed his voice, his girlfriend sagely intones: "It's better... there's more pain in it." Give me a break already.

The film jumps the shark full-bore for it's final act, in which Marcus "beef" with another rapper escalates into a shooting war among the drug gangs he left behind. Villians are revealed and "twists" we've seen coming fully unfold, and at one point (I kid you not) we see a scene where the impending performance by Marcus at a concert inspires ghetto children to take to the streets in a candlelight march against crack. Seriously.

Most of the blame for this mess can be laid at the studio and "Fiddy's" corporate masters, for churning out yet another bad commercial for what boils down to simply the latest "piss off your parents" overhyped music sensation. And some belongs to "Fiddy" himself, for reasons outlined above.

But sadly, a great deal of blame must be laid of Jim Sheridan, the excellent Irish filmmaker who for some reason thought directing this muck would be a good career move. Mr. Sheridan, we know you're prior movies were good and we hope you're next ones are again. But sir... you've made one hell of a bad movie here, and only SOME of it can be blamed on you're leading man being unable to ennunciate in English.