GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN'R
Like a lot of prepackaged entertainment, the gangsta-rap drama Get Rich or Die Tryin' was put together virtually overnight. A star vehicle for mega-selling rap artist 50 Cent, the film went before cameras in April of this year and is being rushed into theatres only four months after shooting wrapped. It's possible that the quick turnaround wasn't planned, but the more likely explanation is that all of the interested parties behind the movie (including Paramount, MTV, Interscope Records and Mr. Cent himself) want to get the product out there while the name brand is still hot. While it's a downer to talk about a movie in purely marketing terms, that's the reason Get Rich or Die Tryin' exists in the first place. Despite the involvement of a respected director (Jim Sheridan) and a strong ensemble of supporting players (including Terrence Howard and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the film is first and foremost an extended advertisement for the man they call Fiddy.
As with 8 Mile, which starred 50 Cent's mentor Eminem, the plot of Get Rich or Die Tryin' is heavily autobiographical. The movie opens with the defining event in 50's life, the night he was shot nine times and lived to tell the tale. From there, the story rewinds to the late '80s when a young 50 (or, as he's known in the movie, Marcus) was growing up in a poor section of Queens with his mother, a dealer for a local drug czar named Majestic (Akinnuoye-Agbaje). When his mom is killed under not-so-mysterious circumstances, Marcus is sent to live with his grandparents in their rundown, overcrowded house. But he misses the modest luxuries (such as new sneakers) his mother's drug money bought him, so he's soon back on the streets as the newest member of Majestic's crew.
Marcus doesn't intend to be in the drug game forever-his real dream is to be a rapper. For now, he makes a better living as a dealer-that is, until he winds up in prison in the wake of a violent turf war between Majestic's men and a Colombian gang. That's where he meets Bama (Howard), a petty criminal who digs Marcus' sound and offers to be his manager when they get out of the joint. Once he's free, Marcus turns his back on his former life, but Majestic isn't willing to let him go that easily, particularly when the fledgling rapper starts dissing his old crew in his songs. All this brings us back to the moment where Marcus is riddled with bullets and left for dead. He survives the shooting, and after a lengthy recuperation period (complete with Rocky-like montages of him getting back in shape), he rededicates himself to his music, eventually returning to Queens to play his first live gig in the heart of Majestic's territory.
The first hour of Get Rich or Die Tryin' is fairly involving, thanks to Sheridan's keen eye for detail and the efficient, if derivative, screenplay by Terence Winter ("The Sopranos"). Although the Irish director of My Left Foot seems like an odd choice to helm a movie about a rapper from Queens, most of Sheridan's films have been about underprivileged men in grim urban environments. By shooting almost entirely on location and populating the frame with local faces, he grounds the outsized story and characters in a recognizable reality, at least for a little while. Once Marcus goes to prison, the narrative grows muddled. It's unclear why exactly he trusts Bama to act as his manager (this becomes even more confusing after Bama enlists his client's help in a heist that goes terribly wrong) and there's an underdeveloped subplot involving one of Marcus' best friends who ends up betraying him. Meanwhile, Joy Bryant is handed the thankless task of playing Marcus' inexplicably devoted girlfriend Charlene, who sacrifices her career as a dancer to bear his son. The movie ends with a clumsily written confrontation between Marcus and Majestic, followed by a burst of violence that doesn't make any logical sense. It's as if Winter were only able to finish the first half of the script before shooting began and then made the rest up on the fly.
8 Mile also suffered from story problems, but it was anchored by Eminem's charismatic presence. With his halting delivery and awkward physicality, 50 Cent seems profoundly ill at ease in front of the camera. Had Sheridan been given more rehearsal time with the rapper, he might have been able to pull a real performance out of him. As it is, he mainly shoots around his star, thus dumping the dramatic weight of every scene on the supporting cast. Howard, Bryant and Akinnuoye-Agbaje do their best, but they can't make up for the void at the center of the film. Then again, 50 Cent has always been more of a marketing force than a real person; in that way, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is merely the latest extension of his public image. He and the other people behind the movie will no doubt get rich, but it's a shame they didn't try harder to make a better picture.