When a hip-hop star breaks big, it's inevitable that a flood of unauthorized, low-budget films and books of questionable intent and quality will hit the market – so it goes with white-hot rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. On the heels of his cinematic debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', this flimsy excuse for a documentary arrives on DVD with zero participation from Fiddy (the filmmakers almost act as though that's a point of pride) and regurgitates the same story that's been told ad infinitum about the rise of this East Coast rhymer – shot nine times and left for dead, the former drug dealer survived, became a protege of Eminem and scored a monster hit with "In Da Club" – the rest, as they say, is history.
Billed as "an inspirational journey from the streets to the stage," the unauthorized documentary 50 Cent: Refuse 2 Die also charts, ahem, "(50's) unprecedented acceptance into the heart of mainstream culture." Seeing as some billboards for Get Rich or Die Tryin' generated enough controversy to warrant being pulled, I'd argue as to whether Mr. Jackson's been accepted "into the heart of mainstream culture" just yet.
Written and directed by Underhill and Mike Corbera and featuring interviews with Fiddy's grandfather, Curtis Jackson Sr., Daryl McDaniel of Run DMC, Treach, DJ Skribble and others who helped sculpt the rapper's undeniably successful career, 50 Cent: Refuse 2 Die boasts some of the worst 3-D animation I've ever seen, looking as rushed and cheap as I imagine it must be. Understandably, the film is weakened by 50 Cent's absence; the filmmakers rely upon a laughably hard-boiled voiceover, delivered by not-even-close Fiddy voice double Leviticus Richardson. The filmmakers talk in their commentary track about how they wanted to skew this film "young, hip and cool" by eschewing a "standard documentary approach" and making the film look like a cheap "Grand Theft Auto" knock-off instead – I hate to say it, but it might've actually been a better film if Corbera and Underhill had approached it in a more traditional manner; the story is compelling on its own – why does it need to be dressed up as a video game?
Suffice to say that die-hard 50 Cent fans won't glean much from this blatant cash-in and those who know little about the rapper would be better served picking up one of his albums – "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" or "The Massacre" – as 95 percent of the material offered on either CD is autobiographical to begin with.
50 Cent: Refuse 2 Die is presented in an OK-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that draws attention to the sub-par animation, grainy CGI and overall cheapness of the film – for all of the quick cuts and various sources, this is a passable image but far from ideal.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is likely meant to crack some plaster and deliver bone-jarring bass but gunshots, rap songs and dialogue tend to slide into an inchoate mush – the dialogue during the interview clips is heard clearly but otherwise, this is a bass-heavy mix that fairly neglects the mids and highs. Dolby 2.0 stereo is available, as are English subtitles.
A few bonus features are included: an animation gallery that essentially repeats the animated sequences from the film; video of a "G-Unit" photo shoot, which runs two minutes; "Massive Swerve," a bizarre full-screen, animated featurette that has no discernible tie to the film; "The Making of 'Refuse 2 Die'," a collective of behind-the-scenes featurettes broken down into animation storyboards, runthroughs of the 3-D animation process, freestyle rapping by KSpawn and filmmaker commentary with Corbera, Underhill and graphic designer Stephen Burr, which you'd think New Line would've made easier to find. Also on board is the film's godawful trailer.
A rush job cash-in if there ever was one, 50 Cent: Refuse 2 Die is a waste of both your time and your money – no new information is offered, the rapper didn't participate in this unauthorized documentary and quite frankly, it's such a shoddily low-budget affair that it borders on unwatchable. Skip it.