Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 13, 2006)
After the success of 2002’s 8 Mile, another slightly-fictionalized, thinly-veiled hip-hop biopic became inevitable. 2005’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ follows the same formula. Instead of star rapper Eminem, it focuses of 50 Cent. Instead of respected white filmmaker Curtis Hanson, it uses respected white filmmaker Jim Sheridan.
I don’t think the suits at Paramount were too happy with the main differences between the two, though. Instead of the generally positive notices given to 8 Mile, critics panned Rich. 8 Mile earned a strong 76% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, while Rich saw only 18% of its reviews fall in the “fresh” category. Audiences didn’t warm up to it either. 8 Mile took in a very healthy $116 million, but despite 50 Cent’s popularity, Rich only made $30 million.
So I guess we won’t have to sit through Get Richer or Die Tryiner’. Rich starts with a robbery gone wrong. Marcus (50 Cent) argues with fellow bandit Bama (Terrence Howard) and eventually finds himself shot multiple times by a mystery assailant.
As he lays near death, Marcus reflects on his life. (Don’t all nearly dead movie characters do that?) We head back to the mid-Eighties and meet Marcus as a kid (Marc John Jefferies). He doesn’t know his father, and his slutty mother Katrina (Serena Reeder) usually leaves him with relatives so she can sell drugs and get her freak on. Since this means she can buy him nice shoes, Marcus doesn’t seem to care.
Katrina’s lifestyle leads to her demise, however. That means no more slick sneakers for Marcus, and he blames a Rick James clone named Slim (Leon). Marcus pins a photo of James to his wall and maintains a pact with himself to someday avenge his mom’s death.
In the meantime, he picks up the family business. Marcus starts to sell drugs – to buy himself those much-desired shoes, of course – and pursues this career over the years. He rises in the ranks and gets his own crew. Marcus also reconnects with Charlene (Joy Bryant), a girl he liked in his younger days. They date as Marcus lives his gangster life and also entertains notions of becoming a rapper. The movie follows his attempts to acquire wealth or expire in the process.
When Rich was about to hit screens, I saw a Home Theater Forum member misidentify it as Get Rice or Die Tryin’. I joked about the typo and stated that this was a film in which 50 Cent led a desperate mission to find some Chinese food.
How I wish that were the case, as a flick about ethnic cuisine would be greatly preferred to this misbegotten mess. I’ll be blunt: I loathe 50 Cent. This has nothing to do with his music. While I don’t particularly like rap, I also don’t count myself as a knee-jerk foe of the form. It doesn’t do much for me, but that doesn’t make it worthless.
Instead, I dislike 50 Cent due to his persona and worldview. This is a performer who earned much of his fame due to his criminal past. We’re led to see him as particularly “real” because he got shot a number of times. He also thinks it’s fun when his very young son comes out on stage in a bulletproof vest and curses at the audience. As indicated by the very title of this movie, 50 Cent also clearly thinks that money is more important than anything else; apparently death is preferable to poverty. That’s exactly a positive message to send.
Sorry, but I think none of these things are cool. Getting shot is to be applauded? Joking about that by putting your kid in a bulletproof vest is funny? Glorifying the accumulation of wealth and fame above all else is admirable?
Despite my disdain for 50 Cent, I tried to watch Rich on its own merits as a film. Unfortunately, it has very few. If I try hard to think of positives here, I find my brain starts to hurt. Rich never stands out in a good way.
Instead, it provides nothing more than one-dimensional gangster junk. Oh, the movie wants us to believe it offers depth. Don’t believe it. The characters are flat as pancakes and never develop in any way. The most exploration of Marcus comes from its tepid “mommy was a druggie and daddy wasn’t there” references. Those act as cheap shorthand and the movie never remotely attempts to delve into Marcus’ personality in a more involving manner.
That’s because Rich prefers to go down tried and true paths. It focuses on Marcus’ gangster lifestyle, and I suppose it thinks it offers a gritty examination of life on the streets. It doesn’t, as it just presents the cheesiest aspects of Scarface and New Jack City. This is a formulaic piece of “inner city” crap.
Sheridan shows absolutely no feel for the subject or the territory, and the movie saddles its participants with a wealth of poor lines. Many of these come from Marcus’ idiotic narration, and they often become laughable. Heck, lines like “four niggas dedicated to one thing and one thing only: getting paid and getting laid” don’t even make sense – isn’t that two things? None of the actors escape the shame of the terrible dialogue, though, and the movie provides more than its fair share of unintentional giggles.
Most of the performers overact relentlessly, perhaps in an attempt to draw attention away from 50 Cent. He provides one of the most wooden turns in movie history. He reads every line like it comes from an Ikea manual, and he shows absolutely no personality of charisma. He offers a horribly unconvincing performance as himself.
I never saw 8 Mile, so I don’t know if it’s as good as its reviews suggest. However, I can attest that the critics got it right when they slammed Get Rich or Die Tryin’. A stupid, cheesy attempt to tell the life story of 50 Cent, it’s not even worth a nickel.