GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' directed by Jim Sheridan, with 50 Cent, Terrence Howard and Marc John Jefferies . A Paramount release. 134 minutes. For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NN
From the brilliant first shot -- a close-up of a car's side mirror reflecting New York traffic that rattles frantically to every bass-heavy kick of the hard 50 Cent track thumping in the vehicle - the tone is set. Get Rich Or Die Tryin' will be a serious, artful film, full of atmosphere and cinéma vérité touches that flesh out Curtis Jackson's well-publicized tale of surviving nine shots and becoming the greatest and most powerful rapper in the universe.
The producers (including Eminem, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine working under the scarily powerful brand ISA Interscope/Shady/Aftermath Films) brought six-time-Oscar-nominated director Jim Sheridan (In America, In The Name Of The Father) on board hoping he could recreate the gritty realism of 8 Mile, directed by the equally heavyweight Curtis Hansen (L.A. Confidential).
He tries his best.
When the movie follows 50 as a child (a well-cast Marc John Jefferies), it succeeds. Classic musical material (LL Cool J's Radio, BDP's 9mm Goes Bang) establishes the time frame and develops the character's growth with hiphop. The actors are believable, the story is well-paced and the film captures New York City's early-80s scene (despite the occasional Ontario licence plate).
But things start going wrong when 50 shows up playing himself (I mean Marcus) as a teenager, deploying the staggering dramatic range he first displayed in videos for In Da Club and Wanksta. (That's sarcasm.) 50's got two facial expressions: grinning and not. His wooden portrayal of his own life story may make you grin, too, or even laugh out loud.
As 50 robotically recites the screenplay, punctuating each line with either a grin or no grin, depending on which is more appropriate, and Sheridan masterfully frames each scene, the actor/director talent imbalance renders every dramatic moment hysterical.
One of 50's homies gets shot, and it's announced that he's lost the ability to walk. "Oh no," says 50 in his quiet, smooth and steady monotone, staring straight ahead. The camera stays on his blank face as if begging for emotion.
But it's no surprise that the star seems lost. The tale, including a plot line that parallels 50's beef with Ja Rule and his rise from hustling crack, becomes vague and convoluted. It's 50's story as beefed up by himself, romanticized by the media and further fictionalized by Sheridan and company, with elements of Scorsese movies tossed in for good measure.
By the time he finally makes it as a rapper (two hours plus!), you still don't know how he did it.