By Admin | November 9, 2005

Jim Sheridan directed one of the best movies in recent years that no one saw: 2002’s “In America.” That film chronicled an Irish immigrant family’s attempts to put personal tragedy behind it by getting a fresh start in New York City. The concept wasn’t the freshest, but Sheridan infused the picture with a refreshingly optimistic perspective, reinforced by great acting. Sheridan’s latest, “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’” is another retelling of an old saw, this time it’s the story of a young man who raises himself out of a life of crime and poverty to become one of the music industry’s biggest stars.

And seeing as the star is rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, one suspects this effort will be a little more high profile.

Based on Jackson’s life story, “Get Rich” tells the story of Marcus, a young boy growing up in Queens with his drug dealing mom. His father is absent, but mother and son are quite close, and she encourages his nascent attempts at rapping. When she gets murdered by an unknown assailant, however, Marcus goes to live with his grandparents and eight other kids. After a few weeks of wearing hand-me-downs, Marcus makes up his mind to follow in Mom’s footsteps, and he too starts dealing drugs. Before long, he’s attracted the notice of his mother’s old boss, Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and is given his own corner on which to deal coke.

Fast forward several years and Marcus is still dealing, but the appearance of crack on the streets means more money and his own crew. Soon Majestic is singling him out as his hardest working earner, even garnering the attention of the big boss, Levar (Bill Duke). It all sounds pretty sweet, and it is, until the police find (planted?) drugs in Marcus’ apartment and he’s sent to prison. While there, he resolves to get his act together musically, and even makes the acquaintance of his future manager, Bama (Terrence Howard, appearing in his 800th movie this year). The shower scene in which the two are “introduced” is one of the high points of the movie. All that’s left is to see if Marcus (who goes by the nom de rap “Young Caesar”) can beat the odds and succeed as a hip hop artist.

As I mentioned earlier, “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” is pretty standard storytelling. That it’s “based on a true story” doesn’t mean we haven’t seen similar tales of someone rising above their surroundings on the big screen a hundred times before. Think of it as Mariah Carey’s “Glitter,” only with more murders.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Sheridan does his best with the material, crafting another movie that showcases what one assumes is his favorite (American) city. New York is lovingly shot, which isn’t always an easy proposition for a place like Jamaica, Queens. He also gets strong supporting roles from the likes of Howard (hardly a difficult proposition) and Joy Bryant (as Marcus’ childhood sweetheart).

Of course, the weight of this endeavor rests primarily on “Fiddy’s” shoulders. The guy managed to get out of “the game” and survived getting shot nine times in real life, but carrying a feature film is another thing entirely. He’s not entirely unwatchable – there are some moments of actual emotion in his performance – but you can almost tell which scenes were shot first. One example is the aforementioned shooting, where he somehow keeps his face neutral even as he’s bleeding out on the street. Too much of the time, Jackson is a complete blank, like he’s bored with his own story.

Coming into this knowing little about 50 Cent aside from the usual (shot a bunch of times, mumbles when he raps, has tiny ears), and being curious about all the hoopla surrounding his persona, I found myself occasionally engaged by his story. There are undercurrents of something interesting going on in “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’” but Jackson’s lackluster effort and a laughably contrived third act (will he find out who his father is and get revenge on his mother’s killer?) keep this from distancing itself from any number of similarly themed flicks.

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