As readers are perhaps aware, I am perversely fascinated by 50 Cent. He’s one of those larger-than-life pop icons who makes the world just a little more interesting. So when Josh Modell forwarded me an email about 50 coming to Chicago to screen his sub-direct-to-DVD directorial debut, Before I Self Destruct at a gloriously cheesy downtown multiplex called River East I was, to put it mildly, intrigued. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away.
So last night I went to River East with my friend Michelle to see the man himself and the “film” that will be bundled alongside every copy of 50’s new album. I don’t know what I expected but I figured it would be a memorable night. It was, but not for the reasons I had anticipated. Entering the theater, I was surprised at how sparse the crowd was.
Six years ago, 50 was unquestionably the biggest rapper in the world and arguably the biggest pop star as well. He was a pop culture phenomenon. His debut album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ was just a half million albums away from going diamond. That’s ten million fucking albums sold in the U.S alone. You know who else goes diamond? The fucking Beatles. Michael Jackson. Eminem. Peter Frampton back when he still a glorious mane of golden locks. That’s about it. That’s some rarified air.
Now 50 had to promise to appear at a theater in order to get people to see his directorial debut for free. And the theater was still only half-full! Just before the film was supposed to begin at 8:30 a gentleman sternly informed us that if we had to use the bathroom or buy popcorn now we better do so now, since security was super-tight and if anyone left the theater more than once they wouldn’t be let back in.
I took this as a cue to hit the concession stand, where a young man with bloodshot eyes mumbled something like, “You got 50 cents, man?” I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Was he asking me if I was seeing the 50 Cent movie? Or was he actually asking for 50 cents? It turned out to be the latter, as he once again mumbled his request for 50 cents while I paid for my pretzel, water and small popcorn. Which cost nearly fourteen fucking dollars. And was terrible. Seriously, the pretzels at River East are the worst shit ever—slathered in butter, savory for no discernible reason and crazy overpriced.
On my way back to the theater I overheard a young man tell a friend, “Man, there is no security up in the theater and a bunch of wild brothers. Things could get sour in a minute. Somebody could seriously get shot.” I didn’t think there was any danger of anyone getting shot but for the first time it hit me that I was going to be in the general proximity of the most shot-at man in the history of popular music.
My pass for the screening insisted, in no uncertain terms, that the film would start at 8:30 sharp. Yet at 8:40 the film still hadn’t begun. Nor did it begin at 8:50 or 9:00 or 9:15. We all assumed that 50 was simply late getting to the theater so it seemed odd that the movie began at 9:20 without him introducing it. If he was just going to show up for a post-screening Q&A then why didn’t they start the movie on time? Don’t they realize that some of us have Wale, Kam Moye and Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis reviews to write on a tight deadline?
While we waited interminably for 50 we got to listen to his new album. This meant that 50 was capable of disappointing me and all his other non-fans three distinct ways—with his new album (which sounded very meh, to use Noel’s favorite word), his movie and his personal appearance.
Shot with grandma’s camcorder on what appears to be a budget of several hundred dollars, Before I Self-Destruct, which 50 also wrote, produced and executive-produced, casts Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as Clarence, a man once heralded as potentially the greatest basketball player of all time. Then he hurt his knee and was reduced to working at a grocery store to support his mother and younger brother, a 12 year old genius who’s been accepted to a slew of Ivy League schools before hitting his teens. Seriously. 50’s character seems to have just graduated from high school, which is odd, considering the actor playing him is clearly in his mid-30s. Oh well, if a 12 year old can go to Harvard then why shouldn’t a 34 year old act like his high school glory days had just ended?
When their saintly mother is killed, 50 gets a job killing a whole bunch of motherfuckers for veteran character actor Clifton Powell, the token “actor” in the cast. 50 proves very adept at the job, at which point the film alternates between scenes of 50 blasting giant holes in fools with a shotgun and gratuitous sex scenes. Sometimes 50 combines sex and violence, like when he’s assigned to kill a sexy lesbian, but not until after she’s done having hot, lesbiany lesbian sex with a fellow lesbian. Eventually, 50 gives his heart to a woman. This proves his downfall. The moment 50 told his girlfriend, “I love you” (a line that drew audible gasps from a crowd that, to be fair, gasped and hooted and tittered early and often) everyone knew his death was imminent.
Before I Self Destruct was sort of like Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ meets Good Will Hunting as written and directed by Master P. It was amateur hour all the way but it was also strangely watchable, in part because it was so goddamned odd. Then the film ended and everyone left the theater. Wait! No! What about 50? Wasn’t he supposed to show up and redeem the whole sorry evening?
The crowd left the theater only to gather en masse just outside the theater door to pose for pictures (there was a gentleman there with what appeared to be a rhinestone-studded camera) and mug for something called Raw TV. The Raw TV host asked a fetching young woman what it was like to watch 50’s new movie with 50 actually in the audience. What kind of motherfuckery was this?
So I asked a young man with a bullhorn if 50 was supposed to be at the screening.
“Oh, he was at the screening” he assured me.
“How? If he was at the screening, why didn’t he introduce the film or do a post-film Q&A?”
“He was at the screening, but he showed up after the film started, then he announced that he was there, but he did it in the dark for security reasons so nobody would know exactly where he was.”
“And he watched the film?”
“Yeah, he watched about an hour of it, then he left.”
This, dear reader, blew my mind.
“So you’re telling me that 50 Cent snuck into the theater under cover of darkness, announced his presence while his film was still playing, but not so that anyone would actually see him, then left his own movie early instead of doing a Q&A?”
I asked him to repeat this assertion several times because I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it. He didn’t seem to think there was anything strange about this scenario. So here is my question for you, dear reader. Were any of you at the screening last night? Have any of you attended the screenings of Before I Self Destruct around the country? Is it even theoretically possible that 50 was actually at the screening? Or were we all being fed a line of bullshit?
A certain level of eccentricity and secrecy is expected from pop stars but this was ridiculous. The evening transformed 50 from an entertainer with a shitty movie to promote to a mythical figure like Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. The gentleman with the bullhorn seemed to be seeing, “You can’t see 50, or talk to him, but he is with you always. You just need to believe in him, like Peter Pan.”
It was, on the whole, a rather curious evening.