Anyone who watched the final act of Eminem pseudo-biopic 8 Mile and wished it had been directed by Edgar Wright is about to find their new favorite film.
Anyone who watched the final act of Eminem pseudo-biopic 8 Mile and wished it had been directed by Edgar Wright is about to find their new favorite film in Joseph Kahn’s Bodied, a satire about PC culture masquerading as a sports film about battle rapping. For the rest of us who live outside of that narrow intersection, Bodied is a highly stylized cringefest, an ambitious movie whose overall tone makes it a lot harder to love.
On paper, Bodied is a pretty straightforward flick. Calum Worthy stars as Adam, a liberal grad student writing his thesis on the use of the n-word in hip-hop lyricism. His passion for attending and dissecting battle rap events leads to him becoming a battle rapper himself, a role he possesses surprising skill for, but one at odds with the “woke” bent of his ideals and that of his peer group, largely typified in his “social justice warrior” girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold). The film follows Adam’s meteoric journey from rabid, repressed fanboy to monstrously unhinged enfant terrible willing to destroy any lasting vestige of his personal life in order to succeed.
That arc would work fine as the spine of a movie about battle rap if it was framed as some kind of tragedy. As he moves through this world and grows more and more confident on the mic, Adam’s tether to reality and his relationships wears razor thin. His ascent leaves severe collateral damage in his wake, all in the pursuit of breaking boundaries and crossing lines of good taste to get a fleeting crowd reaction. It’s not much of a shock, then, that Eminem is a producer on this film and that it’s written by, what else, a white battle rapper from Canada.
Even though it’s ostensibly concerned with a primary facet of the rap world, Bodied isn’t interested in parsing the complexity of black culture or the non-black scene denizens who benefit from structures they did little to build. With its “South Park”-esque flouting of political correctness, it feels like little more than a lengthy, doughily written monument to white dudes and their linguistic manifest destiny, that never-ending yearning to say whatever they want with little to no consequences. There’s a cursory reading of Bodied that could posit that this film tackles free speech by showing that there are in fact repercussions to the offensive things Adam says in his battles, but the triumphant conclusion paints a picture to the contrary.
These enumerated issues with how the film comes off thematically are at odds with the general entertainment value Bodied represents. Though it fails as a satire, it succeeds in being an eminently watchable experience, with laughs and thrills along the way to detract from its self-satisfied, sophomoric brand of proselytizing. Music video director Kahn employs a grab bag of cinematic tricks to bring life to the film’s verbal sparring, framing each battle like an anime fight scene, utilizing onscreen graphics and generally injecting a welcome dynamism to even the blandest of scenes.
The film’s tone calls to mind Kahn’s previous theatrical effort, the genre-bending Detention. But where that film starts of grating and effortlessly evolves into a daring, inventive exercise in dramatizing youth culture, Bodied never really escapes its initial cringeworthiness. Even the parts of the film that will win over its detractors still can’t shake that skin-crawling, insect-like revulsion reaction, as if a human-sized fly is just outside of the frame, buzzing its wings near your flesh. Seriously, listening to Adam spit struggle bars about Asian jokes and faux-clever darts about his opponents is more disturbing than any gore in any mid-budgeted torture porn flick of the last 10 years.
But Bodied, for all its foibles, can’t be called a failure. As a moviegoing experience, it might be worth an argument with theater management for a refund, but since it’s ultimately destined for a shelf life on YouTube’s premium streaming service tier, it’s exactly the kind of content for young dudes who unironically type “triggered?” at people in comment section debates. Maybe Kahn and company intended the film to sneer at that audience or to force them to look themselves in the mirror, but really all they accomplish is giving those bratty little fucks their own superhero movie. Thankfully, this isn’t likely to spawn a franchise of exponentially budgeted sequels.