The video game released in conjunction with 50 Cent’s movie is called Bulletproof. The flick itself could easily be called Criticproof. After a pummeling MTV blitz, soundtrack drop, convenient controversy over billboard guns, recent revelations of murder plots against the candid “Ghetto Quran” rapper, most of Get Rich or Die Tryin’‘s audience is coming in well-briefed. The Queens-bred ‘In Da Club” hustler’s drug-dealing mom was murdered when he was eight; the young 50 (née Curtis Jackson) worked as a narco hopper and a dealer; he dropped out of high school, went to prison, and most famously, was shot nine times in 2000 and lived to rap about it.
Unfortunately My Left Foot‘s Jim Sheridan, that reliable purveyor of Irish struggle-porn, anchors us in tedious exposition. As with his own autobiographical slog In America, the director is content to depict surface adversity and resilience without offering much in the way of interior glimpses. It may be true that young orphan 50’s work ethic was inspired by his glass-pressing desire for unattainable new kicks (“Window Shopper” is a soundtrack single), but why should we care? Sheridan and Sopranos screenwriter Terence Winter never deliver the thing that Hustle & Flow got right—the thrill of making music coupled with the jolt of suddenly dreaming bigger than the block.
Judging by Sheridan’s interview fawning—in one, he calls 50 Cent a “black Jesus with the wounds to prove it”—he was probably more seduced by the bang and bling anyway. And it’s more entertaining, if less gripping, when the film indulges in episodes of gangland revenge. Among other things, our stoic hero clashes with a Lex Luthor-ized villain named Majestic (supposedly based on real-life drug lord Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff), and a pair of swaggering Colombian thugs who comport themselves like Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights crossed with the dude from Nickelback. Be warned, when a fedora-sporting Godfather starts wheezing out pearls about violence begetting violence, you may die tryin’ to stop laughin’.
Evidently Sheridan told 50 that if his acting was weak, the fault would be with the direction. Not sure who gets the credit for the opposite, but 50’s acting is fine. As his prison buddy/manager, Terrence Howard, still scanning as Hustle‘s hoopty-cruising Djay, predictably steals his scenes. But 50’s cool pain holds up to Eminem’s 8 Mile fluster. Actually, Em’s hothead persona gave him more latitude for actorly expression. Conversely, 50’s image relies on a matter-of-fact toughness that slays in videos but can’t by definition betray much emotional bandwidth. He doesn’t get much chance to show it here anyway, aside from one weepy moment when his girlfriend-babymama gives the P.I.M.P. what for. Most moral dilemmas are handled by clunky voice-over like “I don’t know what I wanted a gun for, but I got one anyhow.”
Like Hustle & Flow and 8 Mile, this hip-hop ascent ends on the verge of fame. Unlike those two films, though, it doesn’t bring enough musical fire to really be about creativity. And though it touches on the idea of fatherhood, it’s not about that either. A few narrative head fakes suggest there might be a Darth Vader, come-to-daddy moment. But understandably, the most reliable father figure turns out to be Benjamin Franklin. His green mug anyway. And whatever that was he used to say about wisdom and wealth, which, in the world of Get Rich, are obviously one and the same.