Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was better than I thought it would be, but don’t mistake that for a ringing endorsement. I was firmly convinced it was going to be just plain awful, and it’s not — at least as filmmaking, thanks to director Jim Sheridan. Parts of it are pretty bad — and at 117 minutes, cut from 134, it’s still way overlong — but the movie as a whole is reasonably successful at mythologizing “50 Cent.” The question is whether or not that’s desirable.
The film’s problems are multileveled. First, this is a story that’s been told before — recently and better as Hustle and Flow. Oh, sure, Get Rich adds running time and excessive violence to the mix, and it changes the lead character from a pimp-turned-rapper to a drug-dealer-turned-rapper. These alterations don’t make a significant difference. It’s still the same basic movie — only with a sneer on its face.
Second, while this is ostensibly a movie about rap music, truth to tell, Get Rich brings very little to the table on that score. Nothing about the film even attempts to say anything about the art form it supposedly lionizes. At least Hustle and Flow was actually about the music, and even attempted to (entertainingly) analyze the creation of the songs. Here, the music is given short shrift in favor of gunplay and “gangstah” theatrics and sadism (one scene would have worked nicely in Saw II).
Third, there’s the question of the lead actor, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and I’m using the word “actor” in the loosest possible sense. He has no range and precious little charisma. His performance consists of three expressions — sulky, menacing or (rather goofily) smiling. The last is an advancement, since the actor portraying his character as a kid (Marc John Jeffries, The Haunted Mansion) has only mastered the first two. Possibly smiling is a sign of maturity, like the weedy mustache Mr. Cent grows (apparently between camera setups).
And that brings us to the biggest problem of all — the moral viability of presenting a gun-toting gangster in a positive light, as little more than a misunderstood youth in search of a father figure. It will be argued that the story is all about the fictionalized version of 50 Cent (here called Marcus) overcoming his criminal past through what I’ve seen called “the transformative power of rap.” That’s a case that would better hold water were it not for the fact that the songs catalogue and glorify that past — not to mention that the murderous violence continues right up to the film’s final scene of Marcus walking onstage. The fact that once Get Rich gets him onstage, the film has the temerity to present him as a Christ figure (50 Cent died — or at least got shot nine times — for our sins?) only makes the message that much more suspect.
Moreover, Paramount obviously knows the film is morally specious. The “official” plot synopsis claims that Marcus takes up drug dealing after his (drug-dealing) mother gets killed because it “pays the rent.” Well, no, not really. With the death of his mother, Marcus goes to live with his grandmother, who can’t lavish gifts on him and he takes up dealing in order to buy a pair of expensive running shoes. How that connects with paying the rent I do not know.
In the end, the movie’s a preposterous rags-to-riches story with a flat lead character that it’s determined to raise to the level of a deity. That this bogus godhead espouses a violent, confrontational lifestyle drenched in misogyny (here downplayed) and homophobia (this is the man who told Playboy, “I ain’t into faggots. I don’t like gay people around me, because I’m not comfortable with what their thoughts are”) sends out as dubious a message as anything released in living memory. That viewers — especially younger ones — might take it to heart is chilling. Rated R for strong language, drug content, sexuality and nudity.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke