A handful of the stuff I thought about while sitting through Get Rich or Die Tryin', the feature-film debut of hip-hop multitasker 50 Cent, which opens today:
No. 1, this is all pretty mediocre, wall-to-wall with the standard issue guns-drugs-Scarface rap-flick routine, given none of the specifics you'd expect a 50 Cent to bring, considering the man himself supposedly lived the story. (He even says, all together now, "I had it all but something was missing." He has no idea.)
No. 2, we bring movies this empty on ourselves. We ask too much of our superstars. We want to know what else they can do. They should not merely sing, rap, direct, act, or write a memoir no one really wants to read.
They should pair off properly (and powerfully). A reality show is a good idea, but it looks desperate (and is no sure thing). Magazine coverage is de rigueur. For superstars to be truly super, they must be super in many disparate ways, therefore denying us the opportunity to wonder, "If Jennifer Aniston is so great, how come Brad Pitt gets a provocative photo spread in W and she just acts?" And "If Beyonce is really the best member of Destiny's Child, why doesn't she have a perfume I don't want to buy?" And, "If Coldplay wants to be the next U2, why doesn't it have a limited-edition Coldplay iPod?"
No. 3, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is a well-crafted movie but mainly an exercise in branding. 8 Mile was no less an exercise in branding, but because it worked as a picture, we don't think of it as a marketing ploy anymore; a double-standard, but there you go.
Just as 8 Mile was sort of the true story of Eminem, Get Rich is sort of the true-life story of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, with details tweaked and the character he plays now called Marcus. His nasty background has been his calling card, and is generally better known than his music: He dealt drugs, was shot nine times, had hip-hop dreams and caviar wishes, and became the protege of Eminem, who hyped him and finally signed him to his record label. 50 Cent's persona is loosely based on this life: His first record, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," sold 10 million copies and was full of things he probably did or didn't do as his persona or as the man beneath the persona. He wrote a memoir that further blurred the line between life and celebrity, and now this movie enshrines it.
And like all branding, Get Rich or Die Tryin', the movie, works on the idea that you know what you're getting before you get it. You do know, and it is that film. (The audience makes a mistake, however, if it thinks all movies work like this: I have met more than a few people who feel they didn't need to see War of the Worlds because they had seen plenty of Tom Cruise on talk shows, and that was enough for them to judge the picture itself. Experience is now sort of passe.)
No. 4, Paramount did some stuff right: Lacking that mad-at-the-Midwest charisma and brooding big-screen presence of an Eminem (or a Tupac, for that matter), the studio took the weight off 50 Cent and surrounded its wannabe actor with a bunch of first-rate support more inspired than anything in the film itself. The director is Jim Sheridan, the Irish filmmaker of all those Daniel Day-Lewis movies like My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father about men in hardscrabble circumstances overcoming improbable odds; his last was In America, and both that and Get Rich begin with a near identical scene of cars rolling up wide avenues of New York as a radio plays the soundtrack.
Sheridan sees no difference between the crack dealers Marcus presides over and the bored men posturing in Ireland with nothing to spend time on but trouble. He takes the high road, and so does most of his cast: Bill Duke, with his graveyard growl, plays a drug kingpin who might be Marcus' biological father; Joy Bryant, as Marcus' girlfriend, brings more intelligence than her part had on the page; and best of all, Terrence Howard, so great earlier this year in Hustle & Flow, as an honorable, stand-up buddy who saves Marcus during an awkward knife attack in a prison shower. When Howard pops in, and it is far too infrequently, the movie receives that recognizable zap of electricity we get from a star so charismatic you don't dare look away.
No. 5, 50 Cent is no actor.
This, you probably guessed. But it is not a small thing, because I would argue, he is no rapper, either. He knows a good hook, but his flow and the way he delivers a line of dialogue are amazingly similar. His voice has no modulation, and the tone, likewise, has no anger or glee or sadness. Every line lands with a thud. He has a big smile but no charm behind it, and you can almost tell the moments when Howard improvised a little something: They're the moments (watch for them at the beginning) when 50 Cent looks like someone has flown off-script - he gets confused and seems to be thinking, What's your deal?
No. 6, both Get Rich and Jarhead, the Gulf War movie that opened on Friday, share a line of dialogue: "I just want to kill somebody." In Get Rich, a young and restless gangsta says it, and in Jarhead, a young and restless soldier waiting for action says it.
No. 7, 50 lives comfortably in suburban Connecticut. He laughs it off when a community complains about the Paramount billboards showing him with a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other. The movie doesn't intentionally glorify guns but you can understand the complaints: No one involved with this picture knows what those images are supposed to mean, so they become a kind of shorthand for strength. They draw thin lines between romantic posturing and a realistic acceptance of hard life in bad neighborhoods without having anything provocative to say - and that line is the exact one 50 Cent draws around himself, but his idea of ambivalence often looks a lot like self-regard.
No. 8, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is the third high-profile studio picture this year that features the resurrection of an icon, the other two being Batman Begins and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. 50 Cent even gets his Frankenstein-Darth-Vader-Bruce Wayne moment and rises off a hospital slab in pain to take vengeance. Or just go platinum.
Who can tell the difference?
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org