Get Rich or Die Tryin’

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If you like movies that are too long and have characters you can’t understand, you’ll love “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”! It’s the marble-mouthed feel-good film of the season!

The first indication that something is seriously wrong here is that 50 Cent (nee Curtis Jackson, aka Fiddy Cent) is not only the main character, but also the narrator. If you’ve ever heard Fiddy speak, you know that it is not his strong suit. He has a flat monotone (even when he’s rapping), and his manner of speech is so lazy as to be indecipherable. It’s sometimes literally impossible to make out what he’s saying.

That is something of a liability in a movie as talky and heavily narrated as this one. Add to that a generic, slapped-together screenplay and haphazard direction, and you’ve got yourself big pile of dawg crap, yo.

“Get Rich or Die Tryin'” invites comparisons to Eminem’s “8 Mile.” The similarities are striking. Both tell loosely fictionalized versions of how America’s current rap star rose from poverty to prominence. Both sound like nothing more than cynical attempts to make money while the artist is in vogue, except that both are also helmed by well-respected directors (Curtis Hanson in “8 Mile,” Jim Sheridan here).

“8 Mile” turned out to be a fine film while “Get Rich” is a dud — but then, Hanson had more to work with. Eminem, love him or hate him, is a clever creator of intricately rhymed, often parodic rap lyrics, and as a white kid who became America’s biggest rap sensation, his story is inherently interesting. Much of his public persona is an act, and playing it up for so long turned him into something of a natural actor.

Fiddy, on the other hand, is more famous for having been shot nine times than for anything he’s said in any of his raps, which are of average quality for their genre. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the story of a black man who becomes a successful rapper does not immediately grab one’s attention.

Fiddy plays an inner-city kid named Marcus, the child of a skanky drug dealer who gets herself killed early in the film, leaving Marcus to be raised by his grandparents. He finds a little refuge in rapping, but not much; performing is not a priority for him until quite late in the film.

In the meantime, he turns to the family business of dealing drugs. Crack is all the rage, which suggests the film is set in the ’80s, though a colleague of mine points out that the film also references the death of Tupac Shakur, which occurred in 1996. And in 1996, nobody was excited about crack cocaine, because it had already been in all major American cities for well over a decade. So my point is, I don’t know WHEN this movie is set.

Anyway, Marcus’ career leads him to prison, where his new friend Bama (Terrence Howard) pledges to become his manager when they are both released. He’s true to his word, though Marcus continues working the drug angle in addition to rapping, much to the consternation of Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a fellow drug dealer who dabbles in rapping. (I guess you can’t really do one without the other.)

The film has a chance to explore the mindset of a criminal-turned-musician. What motivates someone to get involved in crime, and to cling so tightly to it even when other opportunities arise? (“I’m a gangster, Grandpa, and I’m proud of it!” Marcus tells his grandfather earnestly.) Considering dealing drugs is how his mother died, why would Marcus embrace that lifestyle so readily?

But the movie, written by Terence Winter (a frequent “Sopranos” writer), is not interested in things like “motivation” or “character development.” It seeks only to give 50 Cent’s biography, which it must do hastily, while he’s still hot. You waste another year hammering out a quality screenplay and teaching Fiddy to act, and by then no one will care. Besides, most of his fans are more interested in his nine bullet wounds than anything else. (My question is: Why only nine bullets? If I started shooting 50 Cent, I don’t think I’d ever stop.)

Terrence Howard is the film’s bright spot, obviously better than all the actors around him as Marcus’ savvy prison friend. This is particularly true when he’s next to Mumbly McSlurryspeech, 50 Cent, who always sounds like he just came from the dentist and whose facial expressions can be counted on one finger. Thank goodness the movie, unlike its star, was only shot once.

C- (2 hrs.; R, pervasive harsh profanity, a lot of violence, a few scenes of nudity and one scene of strong sexuality.)

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