Get Rich or Die Tryin’


Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Marcus
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Majestic
Joy Bryant as Charlene
Omar Benson Miller as Keryl
Tory Kittles as Justice
Terrence Howard as Bama
Ashley Walters as Antwan
Marc John Jefferies as Young Marcus
Viola Davis as Grandma
Sullivan Walker as Grandpa
Serena Reeder as Katrina
Bill Duke as Levar
Mpho Koaho as Junebug
Russell Hornsby as Odell
Joseph Pierre as Uncle Deuce

Artistic license and 50 Cent’s questionable acting talent aside, this is a decent crime-drama thanks to a solid script and a talented supporting cast. It’s a good introduction to the rapper and his music, but also an entertaining movie in its own right.

When Marcus (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) was just a teen, his mother was murdered, leaving him an orphan. His mother’s “friend” Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) takes Marcus under his wing, getting him involved in the world of drugs and crime, where Marcus quickly moves up the ranks. Things change for him when he gets reacquainted with his childhood sweetheart Charlene (Joy Bryant), and after being shot by a rival drug dealer, Marcus decides to use his skills as a rapper to get out of his life of crime.

What Worked:
This may be one of the more fascinating movies of the year, if only for the fact that it’s the acting debut of rapper 50 Cent AKA Curtis Jackson, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of his benefactor Eminem into the world of film. Like Eminem’s “8 Mile”, “Get Rich” is loosely based on 50 Cent’s own life, which is actually more interesting in the way it’s turned into an exciting drama in the vein of “Scarface” or “The Godfather.”

If you’re not familiar with 50 Cent’s music, this is a good way to get up to speed, although a lot of it will leave you wondering how much of this story is real and how much was made up to make a better movie. Still, this biodrama has more in common with “A Beautiful Mind” than “8 Mile” in the way that the story is structured. It starts with a robbery gone wrong followed by “Marcus” being shot on the streets in front of his house, but we don’t really have perspective until it flashes back to Marcus’ early years on the street running with a gang and selling enough drugs to pay for his first car in cash. When we return to the shooting in the present, the film gets more interesting, as it turns into more of an underdog success story ala “Rocky.” Watching Marcus’ progress as a rapper from it just being a hobby to him recording in the backroom of his house and making a name on the streets makes a lot of the earlier violence worthwhile.

Another nice touch to the story is how Marcus is taught by his mother before she dies to treat women with respect, something that allows 50 Cent to show a more sensitive side. Rappers often act like misogynist pigs, treating women like sex objects, and Marcus isn’t like that. You have to give 50 Cent credit for shying away from the tough guy stereotypes that most “gangsta rappers” exude for the sake of creating a more well-rounded character.

Much of this can be credited to director Jim Sheridan (“In America”), who once again shows that he’s got what it takes to make a good movie, even when dealing with a setting or subject matter that isn’t his normal stock in trade. Working from a solid script by “The Sopranos” writer Terence Winter, he’s made a tough movie that’s rarely sugar-coated, but includes all of the elements that makes for quality storytelling.

The supporting cast is great across the board, from Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known as Adabisi from HBO’s “Oz” and currently starring in ABC’s “Lost”, to the man of the moment Terence Howard and the gorgeous Joy Bryant as 50’s love interest. “Triple A” steals many scenes as Majestic, the story’s main antagonist who doesn’t like it when Marcus starts breaking away with his own music career. He brings his usual menace to the role, especially in one scene where he threatens Marcus’ girlfriend and baby.

By comparison, Howard brings most of the humor to the movie as Marcus’ crazy friend Bama, who is ready to shoot anyone at the drop of a hat. A lot of their scenes together are unintentionally funny, like when someone tries to attack Marcus in a prison shower stall, and 50 and Terence Howard are slipping and sliding around completely butt nekkid in the scuffle. It’s almost as if “Oz” were a sitcom.

Legendary actor and director Bill Duke is in fine form as the drug kingpin Levar, who runs the show until he’s set up for a fall, and Marc John Jefferies is almost better than 50 Cent, while playing the younger Marcus.

What Didn’t Work:
Although 50 Cent is not a terrible actor, he’s clearly the weak link in the scenes that pair him with much stronger supporting actors. He just doesn’t have the energy or the presence to carry the movie as a leading man. Because of this, he just seems to be there in scenes, bringing little in the way of charisma, and parts of the movie, like those involving Marcus’ relationship to Charlene, just don’t work as well.

Not really being familiar with 50 Cent’s music, I was even less impressed with his rapping than his acting. Much of the time, he seemed to be mumbling and completely out of sync with the rhythm of the music, which for all I know, is his style and why people love him. Either that or he was just holding back to try to make it more convincing that he was just starting out as a rapper.

There’s something bothersome about a movie glorifying the life of a drug dealer, even if it is meant to deliver a “crime doesn’t pay” type message. 50 Cent makes Marcus such a likeable and sympathetic character, but when it comes down to it, he’s still a drug dealer and he’s still making money at the expense of the poor souls addicted to his crack.

It’s going to be hard to avoid comparisons to Eminem’s “8 Mile” when you have one of the same actors as part of your crew, and Terence Howard’s presence just reminds you how much better “Hustle & Flow” is in terms of a “rags to rapper” type of movie.

The Bottom Line:
Although 50 Cent won’t be winning any awards for his acting, he deserves props for being the driving force behind a strong crime-drama that gives a full perspective of his early years as a drug dealer and rapper. Those who aren’t fans of his music or rapping should still be able to enjoy it as a crime flick.