After Tupac died," rapper 50 Cent tells the audience in a voiceover, "everyone wanted to be a gangsta."
Get Rich or Die Tryin', the story of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, plays out like the darkest of gangsta-rap fantasies, but it confirms a sad truth about the music that is supposed to represent harsh realities. The film, like 50 Cent's career, is obsessed with the gangster life and assumes his passion and talent will be self-evident. But there is so little rapping in this movie -- and the minimal amount is so uninspiring -- that it turns the rapper's very fame into a bewildering spectacle.
The film, directed ineptly by Jim Sheridan, begins with the real-life event that cemented Jackson's "gangsta" status. Coming home from a robbery, Marcus (played by 50 Cent) is ambushed and shot nine times by an unknown assailant. As he lies on the ground awaiting a final shot to the head, the film spins back to his childhood, leaving Marcus' fate hanging over the entire story.
The portion of the film that covers Marcus' childhood feels the most honest and interesting, perhaps because 50 Cent isn't in it. Marcus, played as a child by Marc John Jefferies, is growing up without a father, and his mother, a drug dealer, has little time for him. Even at this young age, Marcus was rapping, adopting the moniker Little Caesar. A splendid scene chronicles his early rap career: When the raunchy love tape that Marcus gives to his grade school crush is discovered, it makes her parents so nervous they send her away to live with relatives.
The small comforts of his early childhood are lost, however, when his mother is brutally murdered. This sets up an unintentionally comic vendetta, because the young Marcus blames his mother's death on another drug dealer, Slim, with whom Marcus witnessed his mother having an altercation. Slim was, by all accounts, "a Rick James looking motherfucker," and from that point on, Marcus keeps a tattered photo of the funk star closeby.
At the moment young Marcus buys his first gun, the film leaps ahead several years, introducing a brooding 50 Cent in the place of Jefferies. But the film missteps in retaining the 50 Cent voiceover that narrated the earlier scenes, a sad confirmation of 50's total lack of onscreen charisma.
Get Rich or Die Tryin' falters in trying to take on too much material. By the time Sheridan arrives at the most interesting portion of 50 Cent's career -- his rise to rap stardom on the strength of his hungry mix-tapes -- he only has time to give a brief glimpse.
When a film deals with a musician, it cannot simply discuss his passion. Nothing about 50 Cent's delivery during his few rap scenes implies that he has anything like star talent. The impassioned delivery of Terrence Howard, who shines in this film as he did in Hustle & Flow, proves that being a real gangster is no substitute for being a real performer. In this film, Howard rattles off dialogue with an ease and pleasure that exposes 50 Cent's monosyllabic acting.
As the film draws to a close and Marcus steps onstage to finally deliver a performance, it seems we will at least have a chance to see what all the talk of passion is about. Then, before Marcus can get halfway through a song, the credits start rolling. A film this misguided doesn't deserve your time, but that's just my two cents' worth.
Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Opened Wednesday, November 9th