Too much ink has already been spilled discussing the cultural (in)significance of Eminem. Love him or hate him, Em is the real deal when it comes to the only currency that seems to matter much these days: star power. As it turns out, the mostly mediocre, semi-autobiographical 8 Mile is the perfect way for him to serve notice that he can put that particular money where his mouth his.
Directed by Curtis Hanson and scripted by Scott Silver, 8 Mile should have been a full-on chemistry experiment; the elements are all there, but there's no catalyst. Eminem holds up his part of the deal, luminescing his way through an otherwise stultifying two hours as Jimmy Rabbit, the Detroit inner-city tough with a razor wit and rapid-fire mouth. But Hanson's direction only truly sings in those briefest of moments inside the hip-hop clubs Jimmy frequents, where wannabe MCs verbally battle for the self-respect their hard-knock lives deny them. Jimmy's atomic performance in the film's final moments only makes the audience realize the fireworks that are missing from the rest of the movie.
If L.A. Confidential was long because it was complex, 8 Mile is long because it's trying too hard. It practically clamors for Oscar's attention, but ultimately doesn't deserve it, apart from Best Original Song perhaps. Kim Basinger performs dutifully as Jimmy's white-trash mother, but she plays her booze and bruiser boyfriends as the cliches that they are. The only "acting" the anoxeric Brittany Murphy is asked to do is in one awkward, mechanical love scene.
But 8 Mile succeeds at creating a context for something Eminem once told MTV: that there is a positive message in his music and that that message is "F--k you!" 8 Mile better defines the culture-war whipping boy and despite itself provides a spotlight in which, I do believe, the real Slim Shady just stood up for the very first time.