Great mile: Eminem shouldn't get bad rap

Eminem/Marshall Mathers/Slim Shady brings his macho swagger to the big screen in the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, a '90s version of Saturday Night Fever. Em may not have the emotional range of John Travolta (perhaps Elvis in King Creole is a better comparison) but his one expression is a good one, and this movie may earn him enough to buy a second one.

The Eminator plays Jimmy Smith Jr., known to his friends as Rabbit or Bunny Rabbit. He's 19 in 1995. Having just left his girlfriend when she told him she was pregnant, he moves back in with his mother (Kim Basinger) in a trailer park in Detroit, where 8 Mile Road separates the poorer Southside from the wealthier Northside.

Rabbit has a menial job at a plant stamping out car parts but is counting on his music to be his ticket to a better life. His best friend, Future (Mekhi Phifer), encourages Rabbit to take part in the weekly rap-offs he hosts at a local club. Another friend, Wink (Eugene Byrd), keeps boasting of connections through which he'll be able to get Rabbit free studio time to cut the demo that will make him a star.

A hint of romance blossoms when Alex (Brittany Murphy), a wannabe model, comes looking for her brother at the plant and suddenly starts popping up everywhere. Rabbit's mom has her own romantic problems. She's clinging desperately to an abusive boyfriend while her young daughter sees and hears things no child should see and hear, and she even gives her son too much information about her sex life.

There's a gang of evil rappers, The Free World, led by Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie), who ride around in a hearselike SUV looking for trouble. Naïve by comparison, Rabbit's posse rides around in whatever wheels they can get, doing drive-bys with a paint gun. When one of them, Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones), gets his hands on a real gun, he almost shoots his privates off.

If you detected a plot in the above, that's all there is. Scott Silver's screenplay simply (though it's not as simple as it looks) immerses us in these people's lives for a few days, climaxing with a rap battle where Rabbit wins one round by a moon (and you can bet that picture's all over the Internet!).

Director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) makes it seem as real as it needs to be for a movie. You won't want to see it with your grandmother, but it's pretty mild compared to what you hear on an Eminem record. If the star adds an Oscar to his Grammies, it won't be for acting but for the song "Lose Yourself," which is as clean and uplifting as a Diane Warren ballad.

I wouldn't stand in an eight-mile line to see it, but 8 Mile is a good movie that offers further proof that Marshall Mathers matters.