Down the Rabbit Hole

8 Mile

I probably would feel more kindly to 8 Mile if it starred anybody but Eminem. I have nothing against Mr. Mathers, but he brings so much baggage to the project that it comes off as more calculated and timid than it probably should.

For someone who seems so hell-bent on saying “Fuck you” to everyone who crosses his path, Eminem is curiously cautious with his character in 8 Mile. He had no role in the behind-the-camera creation of the movie — the script is credited to Scott Silver, and the film was directed and co-produced by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) — but as the star and box-office draw he surely signed off on the script and had plenty of opportunity for input. And the notoriously hateful rapper, with lyrics threatening to kill his girl, dissing his mother, and raging against gays, in the movie wouldn’t lay a hand on his girlfriend, is the only stability in his mother’s and sister’s lives, and stands up for a gay co-worker in an impromptu lunchtime rap battle at the factory. The image-polishing is so bald that it’s laughable.

Eminem plays B-Rabbit, an aspiring rapper who chokes at a battle at the beginning of the movie, adding another mark to his already considerable debit column. The other major strike against him, of course, is that he’s white trash trying to make a name for himself in the Detroit ghetto.

The plot is standard issue, as B-Rabbit gets slapped down at every turn — at home, at work, by the guy promising to get his demo made, by his new girlfriend, by members of the Free World gang. But he can redeem himself at a climactic battle, where he will inevitably face off against the defending champion — of course, a member of the Free World. Gee, think he’ll win?

The movie is generally engaging and well-made. The major problem is that it sticks so rigidly to the Rocky/Karate Kid formula that its outcome is a given, and there’s no suspense in the telling.

Even so, the final battle had potential, but the filmmakers and Eminem can’t pull it off. Rabbit’s final effort would work if it felt improvised instead of written, and that’s where it fails. It’s too perfect and shiny, it’s delivered with more skill than anything else in the movie, and it summarizes the story too nicely. Eminem the professional rapper shows up instead of Rabbit.

In the end, the effect of the final battle is to spoil the rest of the movie rather than serving as its triumphant conclusion. To the climax, the plot had a certain naturalness to it, but after the battle, it becomes clear that everything existed not to tell a story but to give Rabbit material. A decent effort curdles.

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