Get Rich or Die Tryin’

January 25th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

You’ve heard of the MTA (model-turned-actress) right? Welcome to the age of the RTA (rapper-turned-actor). Tupac did it and wasn’t bad. Dr Dre and Snoop Dog have turned up in all sorts of things. Now, after 2002’s 8 Mile comes another movie with the rise of a rapper as the central theme. The rap biopic is a bona fide genre, the RTA a serious above-the-title star.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is the fictionalised story of 50 Cent’s life — yet another take on the archetype of A Star is Born. 50 claims it’s about 75% accurate as he plays Marcus, a kid who falls into the life of a drug dealer despite his mother falling victim to the same dangerous occupation. He grows up running crack off Brooklyn street corners and rising through the ranks of the local drug Mafiosi, all the while wanting nothing more than to be a famous rapper. 50’s real-live mystique is all here, from his background as a drug dealer to his shooting. No detail is spared to further the brand.

That’s right, the 50 Cent brand. After awhile you’ll realise all you’re watching is a big ad for rap culture. It might have at least been original 10 years ago, but every cliche from a million gangsta rap lyrics and urban ghetto crime movies is jammed in.

There’s the Korean grocer constantly getting robbed. There’s the writing of lyrics in grimy surroundings to show you how real he is. And there’s the ho’s everywhere — every one of them under 20 and every one of them dressed like they’ve just left a Ralph magazine shoot, except that is for the girl Marcus falls in love with. She appropriately pretty and well spoken, just to show us he’s not as shallow as all his homies, who run around after all the usual bitches.

Comparisons to 8 Mile were inevitable, and it doesn’t help that they’re virtually the same story. Where Eminem’s Jimmy Smith Jr had to crawl out of poverty and his own doubts, Marcus’ demons are drugs and gunfights. Apart from that Get Rich could almost be a remake (interesting that Shady Records — Eminem’s label, part-produced the movie).

Of course, the other big difference is that while Eminem wasn’t quite Sir John Gielgud, he tried hard and what he lacked in talent he made up for in earnestness. Jackson makes mannequins in a shop window look animated with his constant mumble, immobile face and cro-magnon gait. It’s said he bought an acting coach onto the set but director Sheridan dismissed her, certain he could get a performance out of the rapper. He should have fired Jackson and kept the acting coach. What can barely be called performance is a monotone of apparent (and justified) embarrassment.

The contradiction at the heart of Get Rich also doesn’t help. It wants to be a gritty fable about how life on the streets can kill you, but it’s also too aware it has to cater to its core audience, and that means plenty of scenes of stylised violence straight out of Bulletproof, 50 Cent’s banned-in-Australia videogame. You’ll also feel the uncomfortable sound of laughter in the audience when it’s clear there isn’t meant to be any.

Lots of moviegoers find it interesting that a 50 year old Irishman (Sheridan) could tackle the story of a young, black inner city drug runner. But Sheridan’s got a better reputation than he deserves of late — his early stuff was moving with great performances, but the schmaltzy and barely-credible In America seemed to indicate he was losing his grip on his gritty socio-political roots. Letting dross like Get Rich through the lens and editing room in its current form only confirms one of two things.

First, Sheridan is quite content to turn studio hack. Second, as director, he did little other than move cameras and oversee set-ups. The whole movie is covered with the fingerprints of a star with no talent for the medium and a studio executive making it clear the star gets it made his way. The result is a highly contrived movie about what 50 Cent no doubt wants us to believe his life was like.

Even if it was, we might have believed it if we could believe we were watching a man and not a rapper-bot. At one point his girlfriend implores him ‘Most men hide their emotions, Marcus. You bury yours.’ You want to slap the poor girl for believing he has emotions to start with.

And star on the rise Terrence Howard needs a new agent to warn him about the pitfalls of typecasting. After playing Marcus’ manager and friend (whom he meets in jail, of course), he’s playing virtually the same rapper-with-big-dreams role as 50 in the upcoming Hustle & Flow.

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