*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
starring Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Terrence Howard, Joy Bryant, Bill Duke
screenplay by Terence Winter
directed by Jim Sheridan
by Walter Chaw Another in the recent cycle of slick biopics overseen in whole or part by either the subjects themselves or relatives of the same, Jim Sheridan's Get Rich or Die Tryin', the peculiarly flaccid hagiography of two-bit rapper 50 Cent, is an overlong, overly-familiar, wholly sentimental look at a nobody who became a somebody primarily known for getting shot a few times. It's a companion piece of sorts to the also-white-guy-directed Hustle & Flow, a means through which the majority culture tries to reconfigure the minority culture into comfortable terms (minstrel/criminal) that are so entrenched they've been assimilated by the offended. Assimilated to the point, in fact, that it's hard to know if these images, words, and messages are even offensive anymore. Bill Cosby has taken a lot of heat over the past couple of years for his comments about African-American culture losing its mind, but, shocker, he's right. For that matter, arguably no one in popular culture has earned the right to speak out about blacks in the American mainstream more than Cosby.
The opening track in Get Rich or Die Tryin' is called "I'll Whoop Your Head, Boy" or something along those lines, which, in sound and sentiment and coupled with an image of Terrence Howard looking pensive in a hoodie, made me think I was watching Hustle & Flow and at the same time realize that it doesn't really make a difference that I wasn't. (Has any actor since the death of the studio system been as over-hyped and become as over-exposed and tedious in so short a period as Howard?) Fiddy plays a thinly-veiled version of himself, a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks named Marcus who indulges in a life of crime in the titular pursuit of the American Dream. It's a powerful conceit, one that Sheridan explores in a very different fairy tale, the wonderfully sentimental In America; indeed, watching the two films in tandem is not a bad way to ken a holistic picture of what assimilation looks like from the outsider perspective. But Sheridan's tendency to romanticize the plight of the discarded aiming to scale the walls of the castle (he's like Billy Wilder in that respect) gels uneasily with this lockstep tale of a guy who seems, to us at least, doomed from the start, singing along to Chaka Khan with his loser, drug-dealing, bullet-with-her-name-on-it mom.
It's a film that mistakes strife for character development, enough so that Marcus's journey from wayward kid to wayward adolescent to wayward adult is seen completely as a kind of Skinner box in which individual responsibility is laid aside in favour of gangsta catch mantras as "brotherhood" and "honour." Get Rich or Die Tryin' was screened in Denver in a "filled" environment consisting of Denver's tiny and heavily-segregated African-American community--predicting rightly or wrongly that the target audience would be young black kids familiar with the musician. Speaking of Skinner boxes, armed and uniformed policemen were posted inside the cinema showing the film, predicting--and, I'm going to say, inciting--a lot of the violence around this picture in addition to the uproar over Fiddy sporting a pair of guns on a billboard. (I wonder if Paramount will offer to foot the bill for cops to stand guard at Blockbusters renting this title.) More than the film itself, this racist expectation of violence speaks volumes to me of the problems endemic to and stubbornly un-addressed in our society: of course the African-Americans in this crowd are going to start something, right? Minority Report is suddenly a useful analogy in title as well as in subject matter. What a pity that Get Rich or Die Tryin' offers young black men the familiar choices of criminals dead, imprisoned, or reborn as rappers. The blue-collar grandfather's humiliating willingness to engage in an honest profession to support his family, meanwhile, is reduced to a weak, laughable alternative.
A shame that so much ado was about so much nothing, as Get Rich or Die Tryin' is such stultifyingly safe and standard biopic pabulum that it couldn't possibly incite anyone to anything except a nap. Marcus sells dope. Marcus buys a gun. Marcus buys a microphone. Marcus goes to prison. Marcus gets shot. Marcus makes a movie about his life that no one goes to see. It's impossible to criticize Fiddy for being a terrible, expressionless actor because Fiddy is playing himself, and who could do it better? Likewise, it's impossible to dis the filmmaking because it's as machine-processed and buffed to a dazzling glow as the rapper's mainstream image itself. It's not all that "gangsta" to be in a vanity piece that posits living on the streets as a glamorous way-station to fame and riches (find in it the equivalent of Tyra Banks donning a fat suit for a few hours), but the message of the picture appears to be that there are no sins too great that you can't be financially enriched by them through their exploitation.
And why not when our president, whose main attraction to his constituents is that he overcame his own delinquent youth, proudly proclaims himself a "C" student? America's all about second and third chances--it's one of the many things we like about ourselves, and one of the things that mystifies the rest of the world about us. Get Rich or Die Tryin' goes one step farther in suggesting that not only is being a bad guy good business, but being insipid, illiterate, and exceptionally ordinary is actually the best way to earn the approval of the widest audience. (See also: The Da Vinci Code.) The greatest crime of the picture is that it's a rebel without a cause: what's the point of the fight if winning means complete capitulation and neutering before an extreme capitalist ideal?
Paramount rolls Get Rich or Die Tryin' home in a sparkling 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that preserves Sheridan's pot-roast and mashed potatoes aesthetic in warm, almost-honeyed tones. I do one wonder, however, if this is the best visual language in which to tell this particular tale. The DD 5.1 audio renders a fully-utilized soundstage that envelops you without any real logic in its channel separation. Wall of noise is the best description, for what it's worth, of both the film and its soundmix. "A Portrait of an Artist: The Making of Get Rich or Die Tryin" (30 mins.), directed by Aliya Z. Moufid, represents the disc's main supplement with the usual collection of B-roll cut-ups and Sheridan going on about Fiddy as though the rapper were Christ himself. (Indeed, Sheridan referred to Fiddy as an urban simulacrum of the same in more than one interview, suggesting that Sheridan is crazy as a shithouse rat.) The trailer for this picture plus startup previews for P. Diddy's Bad Boys of Comedy, Last Holiday, Four Brothers, Aeon Flux, Hustle & Flow, and "Wild 'N Out" Season One round out the brisk presentation.