Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is the latest addition to the tired gangster-turned-rapper genre. Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson stars in the semi autobiographical film, named after his debut hip-hop album that raked in the millions. But like many other men growing up in the slums, he had a difficult time breaking free, becoming a success, and living to see another sunrise. Why do we care about another movie about a person’s journey from rags to riches? In short, we don’t. Even director Jim Sheridan can’t keep the stink from rising out of this waste bin.
The story opens with a pack of thugs holding up a check-cashing joint. Marcus (50 Cent), Bama (Terrence Howard), and crew break in with guns waving in every direction, demanding tons of money. Marcus—the gangster with a conscience—makes it clear that they’re not going to kill anyone, just rob them of their savings and dignity. The plan goes awry when a woman comes out of the back room with guns blazing, sending the men running out with whatever they could grab. The scene ends with Marcus lying on a street in front of his grandparents’ house, with a masked gunman turning his body into a bullet buffet. After eight shots to the body, he gets a ninth one blasted into his face. An added bonus, if you will.
But somehow Marcus doesn’t die; perhaps he is a modern day superhero of sorts. Rather than acknowledging the miracle of his survival and using his life to do good things, he decides to devote his life to making rap music about violence, abuse, hatred and evil. Therein lies the biggest fault of Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, whose title says it all. The story is hyped to be “inspirational”, but call me crazy; I see nothing inspiring about Marcus’s life. He was raised in a bad area and faced a series of hardships including the early death of his mother (by murder, naturally), a father who he couldn’t pinpoint, and a life of violence. So what does he do? He becomes a gun-toting, stealing, drug dealer. He makes it clear that he would rather be a gangster than a working class fool making minimum wage.
Unlike the cartoon-character villain of the movie, dealer/demon Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the movie relentlessly tries to paint Marcus as a good guy. As a child, he falls for Charlene (Joy Bryant), and is bummed when she moves to the suburbs. 10 years later he sees her again (despite the fact that she is older and totally unrecognizable) and proceeds to sweep her off her feet. They take long walks on the beach. They sing together as romantic foreplay. And when she tells him she is pregnant, he shows no signs of shock or fear, instantly stepping up like a man. Of course, this may have more to do with 50 Cent’s lack of emotional range than his masculinity. But the point is that even though he deals drugs to anyone who will buy and shoots people, he doesn’t cheat or kill without cause, so he's a beacon of goodness. Right?
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is a highly unsympathetic movie that fights hard but never makes the cut. Jim Sheridan is one of the best working directors today, responsible for In The Name Of The Father and In America, but this story is one huge leap in the wrong direction. Part of the problem may be that unlike his previous films, he didn’t write this one—Terrence Winter did. Winter has won Emmys for his writing on episodes of "The Sopranos", but the dialogue in the movie is unbelievably trite. 50 Cent narrates the film uttering one vacant line after another, including the following pearl of wisdom: “I had it all, but something was missing”. His acting is laughable at best, especially in a scene where he says no lines but has to cry in response to a verbal lashing. There is nothing notably strong here, barring some powerful side performances, and that is why the movie falls apart. For a much better, similarly themed movie with actual entertainment value, check out Hustle & Flow. You’ll thank me later.