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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Okay, I never made it to the sneak preview at the Essex Outlet Cinemas last week. I intended to, but, face it, I'm old. A midnight showing of anything other than the results of Metamusil is about the only thing that will get me out of bed at that hour, so it took me a while to see Get Rich or Die Tryin'. I'll admit I was in no big hurry to see this one anyway. I mean, really, I'm not exactly the demographic this movie is trying to reach. It's a movie about rap music for goodness sakes. When I am driving in my car and rap music comes on the radio I always have to turn the sound down just to make sure there isn't something wrong with the muffler. Sorry, but it's true. I may not be in my Lawrence Welk years but I definitely know more about Three Dog Night than Snoop Dog.

Anyway, braced with my usual large Diet Pepsi (free refills in case you didn't know) and my popcorn with the cheesy topping that is so addictive I come to the movies just for it (making me believe the manufacturer's secret ingredient is crack) I braved some nasty weather to spend an afternoon at my home-away-from-home the Essex Outlet Cinemas and watch the saga of Get Rich or Die Tryin'. At least Dale and Karen Chapman were both there to greet me. It's always nice to get encouragement along the way. So in I went.

This is a film starring 50 cent, an actor/rapper best known for having been shot nine times and having survived, then turning his drug pushing, armed-robbing,attempted murdering life around to become the actor/rapper we know today. It seems to me that after all he's gone through he deserves to be called at least a dollar, but that's just me. Well, I have a HUGE confession to make. To paraphrase Sally Field's Oscar speech, "I liked it, I really liked it."

Get Rich or Die Tryin' is so much more than what I expected. First, it is a family story that is probably far too common than most of us realize or that most of us (and by that I mean middle class white people) pretend doesn't exist. Urban drug wars, prostitution, extreme poverty and gang fights swirl everywhere and when young Marcus (amazingly played by Marc John Jeffries) is left an orphan after his mother is strangled and set on fire he is forced to live in the basement of his grandparents' home where he is one of a family of nine. Food is scarce and goes faster than Marcus can sometimes grab at the diner table, and the boy soon finds himself being taunted on the streets by other kids because of his shabby hand-me-down clothes. Jeffries, who is 15 in real life, plays Marcus from about 10 through 16 and does it so well he seem to physically mature in the part as he goes from young innocent to streetwise cocaine dealer in a believable series of vingettes that show how easily it is for a child to be lost to this type of life even when they have strong family ties, in this case Marcus' grandparents, played by Sullivan Walker and Viola Davis.

Along the way Marcus is taken under the wing of a drug lord named Majestic. Majestic is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbage, who I have loved ever since first seeing him in 1997 on the HBO series "Oz". Here, he radiates both security and menace depending on what side of his temper you happen to be at any given moment. He acts as a mentor for young Marcus, and as the years pass and Jeffries is replaced in a smooth segue into Curtis "50 cent" Jackson so have Marcus and his posse grown into Majestic's leading drug selling team. Marcus is living large and life is a good time. He has taken Majestic's early training seriously and has not become a "consumer" of the "product" nor have any of his associates. Instead they have focused on their drug dealing as strictly a business venture and a way to a new career, in Marcus' case, a career as a rap artist.

There are all kinds of twists along the way to fame, including a bust for coke possession which sends Marcus to prison, his struggles to begin a "clean" life out of the drug trafficking world upon his release, a change of "management" in the hierarchy of the drug business, resulting in all kinds of repercussions for Marcus, including a regrettable split with Majestic which leads ultimately to deadly consequences, and that greatest of all challenges ~ love. Joy Bryant plays Charlene, Marcus' girlfriend since childhood, who was sent away at age thirteen because her parents were concerned that she and Marcus were becoming sexually active (even though they weren't). Now ten years later they meet by accident and the friendship they shared as children blossoms into an adult romance.

It is the thread of Marcus and Charlene's love that runs throughout the film and gives the movie its' heart. That and 50 cent himself. He is remarkably photogenic and has a million dollar smile. It is hard to imagine that the events depicted in the film were a part of his actual life. He just seems far too nice to have been involved in so many heinous activities, but it certainly makes for a riveting if cautionary tale.

As for the rap music. It is barely present or if it was I was too (w)rapped up in the story to notice.

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