Eminem's big-screen rags-to-riches story fails to impress

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Marshall Lore

In his movie debut, Eminem is challengingly cast as aspiring rapper Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith, much put-upon by the world and everyone in it. When we first meet him, he’s just spilt up with his girlfriend and is about to choke in front of a noisy crowd at a rap contest. He’s forced to move back in with his mom (Kim Basinger), a white trash slapper with a bingo habit, an alcoholic boyfriend, a cherubic young daughter and bills she can’t pay. Rabbit has a dead-end job and a vague notion that his talent can get him out of this life.

The obvious templates are Rocky and Saturday Night Fever, of course, in which working-class stiffs overcome awful personal circumstances. Director Curtis Hanson also wants us to think of films like Mean Streets and On The Waterfront and, in an effort to make it look less like the star vehicle it actually is, keeps things relentlessly downbeat, shooting everything in bleak blues and chilly greys. The film is undone, however, by the most surprising thing about it: its wholesomeness. Reflecting Eminem’s own inexorable drift into the entertainment mainstream, Rabbit is a stand-up guy, a protector of gays, harassed moms and small children. In his corny moment of triumph, he turns his back on the life he might have had. Which makes for an ambiguous ending, and a way in to a big-bucks sequel. Disappointing.