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Short Take: Bodied

(Joseph Kahn, USA, YouTube Originals & NEON, Opening November 2)

In battle rap parlance, to be “bodied” is to be thoroughly verbally dominated by one’s opponent in combat. So dizzying and unceasing is the wordplay in Joseph Kahn’s Eminem-produced interrogation-slash-satire of the racial and gender politics surrounding this subculture that audiences themselves may feel bodied by the end of its hefty 120 minutes. Like 8 Mile with a master’s degree, Bodied follows a Caucasian wannabe into a black-dominated music scene, here subbing wispy Berkeley grad student Adam (ginger Calum Worthy) for Eminem’s blue-collar B-Rabbit.

The swap in protagonists allows Bodied to draw intriguing points of connection and contrast between the rapid-fire racially transgressive put-downs slung among the musicians Adam faces and the more refined version of the same that he experiences in interactions with his girlfriend, nominal academic colleagues, and the university system. (In those spaces, this form of verbal sparring is an outgrowth of political correctness.) Kahn, a longtime music-video director, busies up his frames with Scott Pilgrim–esque digital thought inserts and keeps his camera swooshing around his characters, but his magniloquent battles, penned by Alex Larson (aka battle rapper Kid Twist), would have been electrifying even if they’d been shot with the spare rigor of Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc.

Any sense of bagginess in the proceedings evaporates in the film’s last 30 minutes, which piles battle raps on top of battle raps in an exercise that seems intent on exorcising every possible form of discrimination in verse. When was the last time you listened more closely to movie dialogue and it was actually worth it?

Jeff Reichert is a filmmaker and critic.