Hippo Manchester
November 17, 2005

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Film: Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (R)

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson gives us the sob story details of his life (misogyny not included) in the autobiographical-ish Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

I hope that Eminem’s similarly true-life-like 8 Mile hasn’t made the biopic a requirement of hip-hop stardom. That movie worked, insofar as it did, in large part because of the song “Lose Yourself,” which encapsulated the up-from-poverty tale much better than the story itself did. That new track, however, gave the movie its heart and its purpose and kept it from wallowing too much in Eminem’s psychic soup of personal issues.

50 Cent’s most well known song remains “In Da Club,” a tale of casual inebriation and sex that doesn’t really offer much of a narrative arc. With no “this is my life”-like song to pull us through Get Rich or Die Tryin’ we just get another tale of growing up fast and poor, a tale that’s been done much better by John Singleton and the Hughes brothers. (Do we need another rap biopic? Why not go with Tupac? I’d think his legend-like status should earn him a movie before a mass-market product like 50 Cent.)

Here called Marcus, stage name Young Caesar, his story begins with a robbery gone bad and the shooting that has given the real-life 50 Cent so much of his fame. As he is lying on the street with bullet wounds, Marcus’ voiceover segues us into the story of his childhood. The son of a flashy drug-dealing mom (Serena Reeder) and an unknown father, Marcus (Marc John Jeffries) spends a lot of time with his grandparents. When his mother is murdered, he moves in to their over-stuffed home, leaving just as soon as his own drug business can support him. Leader of a street crew, a grown Marcus is tough to the bone, except when he’s around childhood sweetheart Charlene (Joy Bryant) and when he’s contemplating a career as a rapper.

After crime sends him to jail, he tries to get out of the game and promote his music, but CDs sold out of the back of a car do not an income make and eventually he finds crime luring him in again.

50 Cent is going for stoic but his performance in Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is more wooden than anything else. Very rarely do any of his lines feel like they carry any emotional weight. Luckily, he’s surrounded by a few good performances, including Terrence Dashon Howard as his would-be music manager and Viola Davis and Sullivan Walker as his long-suffering grandparents. Director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father and In America) is more focused on the poverty than the blingy lifestyle of a criminal, which offers a little more commentary than the story’s blunt this-is-what-the-poor-do stance. But these roles are only bits of the story, with the script forcing Jackson to carry most of the weight himself.

What ultimately makes Get Rich or Die Tryin’ such a waste of a movie is that 50 Cent is not all that good. His tracks are frequently indistinguishable from each other in both subject matter (ah, yes, another song about looking for an easy girl and a hard drug) and in general sound. Listen to enough 50 Cent songs and you begin to wonder if Eminem picked him as a protégé in part to make Eminem look better by comparison. Whether you like Eminem or not, whether you think he’s talented or simply lucky, his music did have an impact on the genre and therefore even those not particularly enamored with “My Name Is…” might find his life story interesting. With his music, 50 Cent has followed, not led, and therefore I have no particular desire to see where his “sound” comes from. 

His life story is indeed interesting. But it could perhaps be better explained in a documentary than in this puffy, pointless semi-fictionalized account.