Joseph Kahn’s "Bodied" has been dubbed a 'battle-rap comedy,' and it does start that way with the main character explaining to his girlfriend the gist of free-stylin'. If you've seen "8 Mile," you know how it works. You square off against an opponent, circled by a crowd of enthusiasts, in a freestyle battle, just two people in a ring and a war of rhythmical words. What can occur in such a battle is an apocalyptic-like sensation that has an ADD intensity and a cause/effect of whiplash.
The white guy who narrates 'Bodied' is a Berkeley grad student named Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy). Despite his whiteness, Adam has a rather scholarly knowledge of rap battles; in fact, he’s even working on a thesis paper about poetry and the social justice aspects of the 'game.' His insistingly uninterested, and politically correct, girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold) follows him around, but doesn't approve of the battles, which she deems as sexist and violence-promoting. Cue in an event in Oakland where legendary battler Behn Grym (Jackie Long) wins once again. Adam approaches him for an interview and somehow gets himself involved in a battle of his own, against one of Grym's foes, in the outside parking lot. Adam destroys his opponent -- it seems this white boy can sing. He is then invited by Grym to join him at other events. However, the problem is rather simple: Adam is white, and rap-battling does tend to consist of some riskily endeavored race-baiting. Kahn knows this is fertile ground to make a movie about a P.C. movement that has all but gone out-of-control in today's society. The arguments Adam and Maya have are scathingly written and feel like a kind of State of the Union for today's divided America.
As cultural appropriation is tackled, Khan throws satirical darts at the phenomenon that is the social justice warrior. If his film lacks the conclusive bite to make it an all around success, the cultural wars that Khan wages are fervently taken in by the viewer. The film also gains points by immaculately staging those ever-so-glorious battle rap sequences, which are expertly created with blisteringly whirly camerawork -- they feel as intense and exciting as a triple OT playoff game.
This is Khan's directioral debut. Before this he was mostly known for his music videos and, from what I can see, an impressive back catalog of shorts. He got help from Eminem, who is credited here as a producer, and you do get the sense that Em probably has a personal connection to the story as he too was, once upon a time, an outsider in rap, a white man struggling to gain the cred that necessitates respect.
As accomplished as the film is, the viewer is able to recognize the missed opportunities in "Bodied", the notion that Khan would have loved to have delved deeper into the satirical, but somewhat feared the backlash that may have come in doing so. Khan does push P.C. culture to the brink of explosion in his film, but is too scared to fully detonate his bomb. The SJWs win again, but will no doubt fume at some of the concoctions in "Bodied." [B-]