Let's be honest - the role of Jimmy Smith Jr in 8 Mile isn't exactly a stretch for Eminem. Jimmy, aka Rabbit, is a white-trash boy in a black world, namely the Detroit hip-hop scene circa 1995. He's a borderline-genius freestyle rapper who sees his talent as the only way out of the trailer park where he reluctantly shares a plot with his mother (Kim Basinger). But first he has to learn to suppress his fiery temper, discover his self-confidence and take part in the rap `battle' that could garner him respect, attention and maybe even a record deal.
Even the most cursory glance at Eminem's biog should highlight the parallels between Rabbit and the real Slim Shady, to the extent that Scott Silver's scriptfor 8 Mile could be called semi-biographical. But there's no denying the casting logic - why try to teach an actor how to rap like Eminem when you can simply get Eminem to act? Especially when, as the first screen tests must have revealed, he really can act.
And thank God he can. 8 Mile is very nearly a one-man movie, so it's up to Eminem to carry it. As far as the supports go? Basinger is improbably impressive as Jimmy's sluttish mum, but her part is little more than an extended cameo; Mekhi Phifer is good in his `supportive buddy' role, but it doesn't give him much to do; and Brittany Murphy struggles to make her shag-happy girlfriend even partially likeable.
Eminem, however, is a hugely charismatic lead, whether he's venting his rage at his mum's slobbish boyfriend, agonising over his screwed-up love life or quickfiring improvised rhymes. And when Eminem raps you will be captivated. Each 'battle' is a verbal spar, with two rappers hurling lyrical abuse at each other, and Rabbit/Eminem is the Rocky of verbal sparring - just as 8 Mile is clearly the Rocky of hip-hop movies. And that's the best way to think of this film, because what it lacks in plot surprises is more than made up for by its climactic emotional impact.
It aint Eminem: The Movie but it does showcase Eminem: The Actor - easily the best rapper-cum-thesp since Tupac Shakur. Which makes it worth checking out, even if hip hop isn't your thing.