More so than many rappers, 50 Cent has made a good-faith, surprisingly sustained attempt to transform himself into a legitimate actor, working at a steady clip despite overwhelming critical disregard.
The performer — ever the intelligent businessman, he of the Vitamin Water brand and MSNBC appearances — appears to understand that the shelf life of hip-hop artists can be limited, something he’s learned with his own increasingly declining record sales (better than that of most, but still on the downswing).
His latest effort, though, is supremely hardcore: losing 54 pounds to realistically portray an emaciated cancer patient in “Things Fall Apart,” a drama he co-wrote, set to be directed by Mario Van Peebles. This means he can now forever be linked with Christian Bale and “Hunger”‘s Michael Fassbender, not a grouping I would have expected.
50’s filmography can make your head spin, his choices an apparent elaborate non sequitur. It’s particularly impressive that this year he’ll star in both “Twelve” and “13,” which will hopefully be released as an elaborate four-hour “Grindhouse” style double-feature.
50 also made his directorial debut “Before I Self-Destruct,” which no one will describe better than Nathan Rabin at the AV Club. I’ve only seen 50’s first two thespian roles — in 2005’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” and 2006’s “Home of the Brave” — about which it can most briefly be said that he could only have improved as an actor since then.
It’s tempting to cut him some slack for “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” since it was his debut. At that point in his career, 50’s acting was as monotoned and uninflected as his sleepy rapping voice; the entire dramatic heft of the film (which I’d still call marginally more entertaining than Eminem’s dour “8 Mile”) is carried by Terrence Howard. If nothing else, the scene when the two meet and become friends in prison — naked, being forced to lie down on the prison shower floor — is memorably homoerotic. 50 appeared to be completely unaware what kind of movie Jim Sheridan was attempting to make.
It was in “Home of the Brave” that his limitations became clearer. A serious candidate for Worst Film of the Aughts, “Brave” is one of those coming-home-from-Iraq movies in which clueless civilians ask veterans how many people they shot. 50 is supposed to be one of four equally balanced stories, but apparently his performance was so inadequate (or so poorly initially conceived) that he only ends up with about four scenes. (Chad Michael Murray gets more screen time.) He’s supposed to be traumatized, but his only convincing line delivery is “I love my gun.”
But there’s reason to hope that 50 is stepping up his acting game. It has to do with his voice. During his fame-making days, his performances were as one-track as his vocals, but of late, his songs feature all kinds of weird, campy multi-tracked voices suggesting a desire to be nothing so much as the Vincent Price of rap. On a track like “Straight To The Bank,” he multi-tracks sinister laughter; on “So Disrespectful,” he appears to be trying to pick a fight by being as vocally annoying as possible. These developments seems to offer the possibility that as an actor, he may yet learn to project something other than gravelly brooding.
[Photos: 50 Cent, from ThisIs50.com; “Before I Self Destruct,” Cheetah Vision, 2009; “Home of the Brave,” MGM Home Entertainment, 2006]