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STYLE & CULTURE | CHRIS ERSKINE / THE GUY CHRONICLES

'Yo, dog': Positively Shakespearean rap

November 13, 2002|CHRIS ERSKINE

As always, we are sitting in front of eight goons eating popcorn, eight guys fresh out of prison or some other form of managed-care living, who repeat all the dialogue they hear up on the movie screen. Take away the S-word and they couldn't even speak.

"Yo, dog," says Eminem.

"Yo, dog," say Eminem's friends.

"Yo, dog," say the guys behind us.

They gag on their popcorn and cough into the back of our heads. Might be a long night here at the multiplex.

"Yo, dog," they say again up on the screen.

We are here to see "8 Mile," out to assess the ever-richer cultural landscape and figure out why America has fallen for Eminem, this tattooed Cinderella from Detroit. The one who spouts the sometimes vile lyrics.

The one everybody under 25 suddenly adores. And, surprisingly, some older critics as well.

Time magazine gushes: "Beneath its tough -- no, filthy -- talk and rough look, it is a fairy tale that -- and this ought to be enough irony for the sniffiest Postmodernist -- the unlikely career of its leading man proves can come true."

And the Los Angeles Times says: "Like Shakespeare's Prince Hal, [Eminem] is royalty in mufti, wrestling with inner demons before feeling the confidence to declare himself the heir apparent, if not the king."

Shakespeare, huh? No wonder the movie took in $51.2 million its first weekend. No wonder the young gentlemen in the row behind us are so excited.

Yes, they've turned out across America, all the teenagers in their mothers' Mustangs and their fathers' BMWs. Dr. Pepper coursing through their veins. Popcorn in their teeth and gums. Awaiting this Postmodernist's delight.

"That's Eminem," my son says when the movie finally starts.

"Him?" I ask, wondering what the big deal is.

Up on the screen, Eminem plays Jimmy Smith Jr., a shy rapper also known as "Bunny Rabbit."

"My friends think you're crazy," says a girl with a bad dye job.

"Yo, your friends don't even know me," Bunny Rabbit patiently explains.

Evidently, here's what's bad about Bunny Rabbit's life: He's living in a trailer with his white-trash mother. He works in a factory. He has no car, because he gave it to a girlfriend who says she's pregnant. Not without a heart, this guy.

Here's what's good about his life: He is a raw but promising rapper. Everyone wants to help him make it big. He has a new girlfriend with "come get me" eyes.

"Hi," she says.

"Hi," he says back.

They flip each other the finger. Love: It's a little different these days.

Not surprisingly, no one in the film is over 30, except for the white-trash mother played by Kim Basinger, who still looks more like a Newport Beach divorcee after a rough day shopping.

One visit to a tanning salon and she could have any rich man in Michigan. Unfortunately, no one in the movie takes the time to explain that.

"It's Thursday," she says. "I gotta go to bingo."

In Detroit, they live every moment.

Meanwhile, her son Bunny Rabbit is hanging out with his buddies along 8 Mile, a bleak street that represents the DMZ or the Yellow Brick Road, depending on which movie critic you talk to.

"I gotta save up some money and get the hell out of here," Bunny Rabbit says.

"Yo, dog," says one of his friends.

"Yo, dog," says another.

Take away all the "Yo, dogs," and this movie would be about 20 seconds long.

But they are the best part of the movie, these buddy scenes. In no time, you find yourself watching a strangely charming little film about a bunch of guys struggling to get out of the neighborhood.

As if that weren't enough, there's the "Rocky" ending, pitting two rappers against each other in a rap-off. Not the Lincoln-Douglas debate exactly. But oddly fascinating, nonetheless.

"I know somethin' 'bout you," Bunny wails. "You went to Cranbrook and that's A PRIVATE SCHOOL!!!"

Ouch.

Obviously, Bunny Rabbit scores a knockout with that one. No rapper could ever overcome accusations of a private school education.

And before our eyes, a star is born.

He looks out from the stage and sees the girlfriend, the one he loved, then lost. She smiles. He smiles. They give each other the finger.

Love. It's a little different these days.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published Wednesdays. He can be reached at chris.erskine @latimes.com.

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