September 16, 2002 01:00 AM

The buzz is growing louder over Eminem’s movie debut, “8 Mile,” which premiered before a standing-room-only crowd as a work in progress last week at the Toronto Film Festival.

The film, directed by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) opens nationwide Nov. 8.

As assessed by Variety’s senior film critic Todd McCarthy, the film’s “gritty depiction of the rapper’s grim pre-fame life in a Detroit-area trailer park and his rise through rap at a black club has tremendous energy and a strong sense of reality.”

As a Hollywood trade paper, Variety in its reviews assesses not only the elements of a film but also the movie’s box-office prospects. McCarthy — whose powers of prediction are the industry’s current standard — is sensing a hit.

“Thanks to its disarmingly amusing depiction of how rap sprang to life on the street,” writes McCarthy, “‘8 Mile’ … has the potential to allow the unconverted — and even those hostile to rap in general and Eminem in particular — to ‘get’ rap once and for all.”

The film follows an angry young white rapper during a critical week in his life. Eminem (real name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III, also known as Slim Shady), 29, plays a character named Jimmy Smith Jr., also known as Rabbit. Kim Basinger plays the rapper’s mother.

“More than one observer was heard to lament that Elvis Presley never had a screen vehicle this ‘real’ that delved into his musical roots,” McCarthy said of the film after its Toronto preview.

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