Rap star Eminem makes a strong movie debut in 8 Mile, an urban drama that makes a fairly standard plot fly through its gritty attention to detail. Jimmy Smith (Eminem), nicknamed B Rabbit, can't pull himself together to take the next step with his career--or with his life. Angry about his alcoholic mother (Kim Basinger) and worried about his little sister, Rabbit lets out his feelings with twisting, clever raps admired by his friends, who keep pushing him to enter a weekly rap face-off. But Rabbit resists--until he meets a girl (Brittany Murphy) who might offer him support and a little hope that his life could get better. Under the smart and ambitious direction of Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) and ably supported by the excellent cast and the burnt-out environment of Detroit slums, Eminem reveals a surprising vulnerability that makes 8 Mile vivid and compelling. --Bret Fetzer
John Leguizamo is, in his own words, "young, Latin, and good looking" as the ambitious minimogul of the South Bronx drug trade in Franc Reyes' Latino twist on the urban crime saga. Reigning in his hyperactive energy, Leguizamo is like a coiled spring as the street-smart player who tries to leave the violence of his trade behind in an upwardly mobile odyssey, and Peter Sarsgaard brings a discomforting confidence to the smooth-talking investment banker trusted with his millions. Few of the other characters even register in the familiar underworld tale (though Denise Richards has fun as a bubbly, skin-deep seductress) and Reyes's flashy style is as distracting as it is energizing. It's the smoldering presence of Leguizamo that keeps the film centered through the betrayals, the bullet-riddled battles, and the slow realization that this cunning shark has just become bait in the deep seas of high finance. --Sean Axmaker
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