(In theaters, November 2002) The biggest surprise of this film is not how conventional it actually is, but how much it doesn’t suck, especially as a pop music star vehicle. I may or may not like Marshall Bruce Mathers III / Slim Shady / Eminem (a rapper who sells because he annoys the parents of his target audience… gee, that’s an original tactic for anyone who doesn’t remember Elvis, KISS, Public Enemy, Ice-T, Marilyn Manson and dozen of others) but he seems willing to take chances in this project, and the film works because of this willingness. It’s not as if he’s stretching; this tale-from-the-hood protagonist is everyone’s archetypical underdog, and the structure of 8 Mile is immediately familiar to anyone who’s seen a sports film or two. (Still, the silliness of the intrigue is obvious whenever one tries to summarize the film: “So this guy’s having trouble with his mom, his girlfriend, his work, his friends, his car… but then he says poetry to another guy on a stage and like -bang- he wins everything, man!”) But when it works, it works, and after seeing 90 minutes of Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith getting humiliated, beaten up, trodden upon and cheated on, it’s curiously satisfying to see him get the upper hand by acknowledging the reality of his situation. Mathers may not be much of an actor, but he does have a quality that makes him compelling for the film’s duration. Director Curtis Hanson’s done a good job with material that might have bombed in any other hands. As is stands, 8 Mile might not be anything spectacular, but it’s more than good enough for what it tries to be.