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8 Mile

The Eminem Show

Every Friday down at The Shelter, the Detroit hip-hop dungeon in Curtis Hanson's (L.A. Confidential; The River Wild) latest directorial effort, the local talent gets together to battle one another. It's a contest of verbal dominance with the mike as the gun and rhymes like bullets. You have to be smart and tough and fast to win.

8 Mile begins with a smallish white kid standing on stage, staring into a sea of black faces. Actually, it begins with the kid puking into a toilet before getting on stage. This kid isn't Eminem yet. It's Eminem the actor, yes, but Jimmy Smith Jr, aka Bunny Rabbit, aka B-Rabbit, this kid doesn't have the confidence to showcase his enormous hip hop talents on stage.

Of course, there are several factors conspiring against the success of B-Rabbit. It's winter in 1995 in Detroit, and he's got to be at the metal stamping factory early in the morning. His foreman is a dick. His mother Stephanie, with whom he is forced to stay for a while, lives in a trailer outside the city. Her addictions include alcohol and Luke (Michael Shannon), a filthy hyena of a boyfriend, who happened to attend the same high school as Jimmy. Talk about a revolutionary bullying technique.

Jimmy has a good core of friends, headed by Future (Mekhi Phifer), who is also one of the city's top rappers and the host of the Friday battles at The Shelter. This posse calls themselves the 313's (after the Detroit area code) and wants to assert themselves as the dominant hip hop crew in Detroit. Standing in their way are the Free World, a rather thuggish set of fellows who particularly don't like the cut of B-Rabbit's jib.

Several fights ensue.

In the middle of all this there is a love story. B-Rabbit, who has just before the film's beginning dropped his girl-who-cried-pregnant girlfriend, is approached by Alex (Brittany Murphy). Although disheveled throughout the whole movie, she is intent on becoming a model. Rabbit throws her a romantic fucking in the bowels of his factory. He's on his half-hour lunch break, and for a very uncomfortable two minutes we see Eminem and Brittany Murphy exchanging passionate grunts and sneers.

She is also receiving it from Wink (Eugene Byrd), the slimy would-be promoter who claims to be Rabbit's homey. When Rabbit finds the two of them he hands Wink a nasty beat down. The favor is returned when Wink leads his good friends in the Free World to Rabbit's trailer of residence, where they graciously beat his ass for a good five minutes. Eventually, of course, the rivalry boils down to a one on one battle between B-Rabbit and Poppa Doc, the don of the Free World family.

While Poppa Doc and the Free World crew are formidable, they are far from the biggest challenge to Eminem in this film. It's the almost unbelievably poor acting by Kim Basinger and, to a lesser extent, Brittany Murphy. Granted, some of their lines were doomed from the start by the fact that their characters are horribly written. But the delivery - woe is me, the delivery. Their performances make Eminem look like an Oscar contender. Thankfully, neither of them spend all that much time on camera, and at least Basinger's character gives us the opportunity to laugh at the yellow-teethed ogre she calls her boyfriend.

What's incredible is that none of the movie's several flaws lead it to ruin. Overall, it's an engaging film. We're behind Rabbit all the way. By far the best parts of the film are the actual rapping scenes, in The Shelter, in the line at lunch, in the car. People in the audience were high-fiving after some of the verbal shots exchanged. It'll make your head spin. Peace out.

8 Mile
Rated R
1 hour 51 minutes

Kim Basinger
Brittany Murphy
Mekhi Phifer
Eugene Byrd