East Coast rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's big-screen debut is a thinly fictionalized version of his own life that further exploits a notorious career involving drug dealing, attempted murder and rap superstardom. As Marcus (Jackson) lies dying on a quiet Queens, NY, street with the barrel of an assassin's gun pressed against his cheek, he reviews a life defined by dangerous ambition and by a father he never knew. Raised by his mother, Katrina (Serena Reeder), a corner coke dealer who makes enough money to keep her son in good clothes and pricey sneakers, young Marcus (Marc John Jefferies) is sent to live with his grandmother (Viola Davis) when Katrina is murdered. Going from pampered only child to a basement room and hand-me-downs doesn't sit well with Marcus, and he starts dealing coke himself, though he dreams of one day becoming a rapper. As soon as he's old enough, the teenaged Marcus (Jackson) moves out, hooks up with his mother's old boss, Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and puts together his own crew: Antwan (Ashley Walters), Justice (Tory Kittles) and Keryl (Omar Benson Miller). He also starts amassing a small fortune, and if a shaky détente with a rival Colombian drug gang means that every once in while someone gets shot, Marcus figures it's worth the risk. But everything changes when Marcus seriously wounds a Colombian dealer in a revenge shooting and the cops turn up bags of cocaine during a raid on Marcus' apartment. While in prison, Marcus decides to turn his life around and become the rapper he always dreamed of being. His new friend, Bama (Terrence Howard), even offers to be his manager once they get out. But Majestic, who's already got his hooks in top-selling rapper Dangerous (Michael Miller), is waiting for Marcus on the outside. When Marcus refuses to become Majestic's No. 2 man, he finds that a career in hip-hop can be just as dangerous as a life dealing drugs. Fans of 50 Cent, whose own endlessly exploited past keeps him surrounded by Kevlar and bodyguards, will probably see the film for what it is — a weak, watered roman à clef — while admirers of Irish director Jim Sheridan (MY LEFT FOOT, IN AMERICA) will marvel that he had anything to do with such a trite variation on the venerable STAR IS BORN scenario. Howard is the movie's sole saving grace, but his presence serves as a constant reminder that his similarly themed HUSTLE & FLOW (2005) is a vastly better film.
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