8 MILE (R) There's a brief moment in 8 Mile when we glimpse a TV playing Imitation of Life, Douglas Sirk's dated but still-juicy melodrama about a light-skinned black attempting to pass as white. In 8 Mile we see that phenomenon, having come full circle, attempt to mutate into some other, more interesting shape. This much-anticipated portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-dawg stars white-boy rapper/pop sensation Eminem as a barely disguised version of himself in younger days. Directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys), the movie is set in Detroit's mid-'90s hip-hop scene, where aspiring rapper Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith (Eminem) lives in a trailer with his trashy mom (Kim Basinger), works a dead-end factory job by day, and hangs with his pals and performs by night. Eminem projects some real charisma in his screen debut (the comparisons with James Dean are all but inevitable), and his scenes with Brittany Murphy are nothing if not intense. While its basic story won't offer many surprises, 8 Mile captures a moment in time as succinctly as Saturday Night Fever and could end up just as potent a pop phenomenon. It's all extremely engaging, and the climactic battle between dueling rappers is half-Rocky, half-spaghetti western and an instant classic. Also stars Mekhi Phifer.

ABANDON (PG-13) Abandon spends a good portion of its running time pulling the rug out from under our feet and keeping us guessing. The plot elements here are standard — a pretty grad student (Katie Holmes), a vanished ex-boyfriend who might be stalking her, and a handsome cop on the case (Benjamin Bratt) — but writer/director Stephen Gahgan continually reconfigures those elements in a variety of ways that, right up until the end, defy formula. Also stars the always-wonderful Zooey Deschanel and Charlie Hunnam, who looks like a blond version of Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison.

AUSTRALIA: LAND BEYOND TIME (PG) The film takes us Down Under to the flattest, driest continent on earth, immerses us in parched, otherworldly landscapes and introduces us to tons of incredibly odd and supremely adaptable animals

AUTO FOCUS (R) Bob Crane was an All-American guy and a typical family man who was also the star of the popular 70s sitcom Hogan's Heroes. But behind the wholesome, innocuous public persona, Crane was living a sordid, secret existence, having sex with pretty much anything that moved and recording his exploits on video. Auto Focus is an odd and lurid little movie, but not nearly as odd or as lurid as it probably should have been. A writer-director whose films are almost always more concerned with the subtleties of character than with style or sensationalism, Schrader here assumes a purposefully flat, almost detached tone that doesn't do much to bring the story to life. Nearly everybody in the film, from Crane on down, comes off as overly wooden, insipid and just sort of out of it, almost as if the entire cast of characters in Auto Focus were channeling Ed Wood. It's a curious approach for a filmmaker to take this subject matter and not a particularly effective one, neither funny nor especially poignant. Stars Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson and Maria Bello. Playing at Channelside. Call theater to confirm..

BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER (R) Bad guy Robert Gant (Gregg Henry) steals a prototype of Softkill, a microscopic, robotic assassin that could change the face of professional killing. Ex-agent Sever (Lucy Liu) intercepts Softkill and soon Gant and ex-FBI agent Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) are in pursuit to get it back. Explosions galore and some impressive fight scenes somewhat salvage the movie's weak plot. Also stars Ray Park, Talisa Soto and Miguel Sandoval. —Ana Lopez

THE BANGER SISTERS (R) Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn star in this comedy/drama about two former rock groupies and best friends who reunite after 20 years. One has remained a wild woman; the other has turned conservative. Also stars Geoffrey Rush. (Not reviewed)

BARBERSHOP (PG-13) Ice Cube stars in this mediocre yarn about barbershop camaraderie. Cube (Calvin) is bequeathed the shop by his late father. His desperation leads to dubious means to pay past-due rent. Calvin's employees provide the bulk of amusement with their conflicting personalities. Also stars Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas and Michael Ealy.
—Corey Myers

BELOW (R) The Shining on a ship, anyone? Making excellent use of a concept that sounds pretty absurd on the surface (so to speak), Below is just about as good a haunted submarine movie as you could hope to see. (It is also by no means to be confused with Ghost Ship). Below is a hybrid so sturdily crafted that you barely notice that the parts are stitched together, with all the claustrophobic suspense of a classic men-stuck-in-a-sub flick and all the smart, creepy intrigue of a good ghost story.


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