28 January 2003 | bob the moo
Not a great story but has good moments and a good central performance
Jimmy Rabbit is a white kid on the poor (black) side of town. Growing up with this influence he has developed rapping skills but is too intimidated to showcase in the cruel `Shelter' battles. Split from his girlfriend, Jimmy returns to his Mum's trailer park home and her young boyfriend. He keeps his job in a pressing shop while working on his rhymes and trying to work out who, out of all the hopes and promises, will be able to help him work his way out of Detroit.
After missing preview screenings and not being able to go when friends went, I eventually saw this a few nights ago. I was maybe better prepared by this point because the hype had been watered down by a few bad or balanced reviews of the film in the media. This helped me lower my expectations so that I wasn't let down. The plot is, well, difficult to describe because there isn't really one narrative to speak of, rather it is Rabbit's story. As a result it is a little rambling with things just drifting through the film. However that it still works is to it's credit. The film holds the attention and the story still has enough in it to follow it.
The telling is what does it the best I think. The direction is good, with washed out cameras not willing to glamorise anything. The biggest smart move was the liberal use of hip-hop through the film. Occasionally we get a beat of a song but it isn't wall to wall music like many rapper's films. Even where a Eminem track is played, Em's voice is limited to a few broken up words saving his skills for the climax. Some of the film doesn't work I got tired of several rap scenes in everyday situations and it didn't grasp me as reality (although in fairness I don't know if this is the norm in some lives). Also there are a few too many scenes of meaningless violence that didn't come across as normal life for Rabbit but instead felt like the film trying to show Rabbit to be tough and ready for action.
It is difficult to write a fair review after seeing the climax which his why I left it a few days before writing this. The climax is a series of short battles in the Shelter that are pumping and exciting. Not to spoil it but some of the rapper's lines are cool until Em takes his turns and rips the place down. It was so funny and funky that I wished that he had made some of his own joints that sharp in his recent Benzino disses. This is where he shines in the role but he also does well generally maybe not worthy of an Oscar nomination but certainly very good. He makes his character likeable but not easily, and he avoids being a sympathy figure.
Phieffer is not as good and didn't convince me as well as I've seen him do. He can act but here he is not really a good character. The support cast are all pretty good and are believable and only a few are clear stereotypical groups. Happily the usual rapper cameos are minimal and not in your face too much. There may be more but I only spotted Xhibit and Obi Trise and neither of them took anything away by their presence. Murphy is pretty good sexy yet trashy but her character and her sub-plot didn't really have anywhere to go and just became another part of the wandering story. Basinger is OK but she isn't as bad as I expected her to be (or felt she needed to be). She didn't need to be like his Mum in the songs, but a little less `victim of circumstance' would have helped buy into it.
The message is worthy but heavily made and the story part of the film just didn't totally come off for me instead it was a bit ordinary and not well written. However the telling makes it worth seeing the direction is pretty good and the liberal use of music is one of the many good touches, meanwhile Eminem ensures that it is always worth watching whether doing witty disses in a car park, ripping the opposition in a battle or just being understated in a good role. Understated! Now there's a thing I thought I'd never say again about a rapper in a lead role of a film since Pac died!
Like him or loathe him, Eminem prevents an average (at best) story being unwatchable by the sheer strength of his presence. However those who aren't fans of hip-hop or Eminem may wish to avoid this, as there ain't too much else on offer.