There's little original about 'Life & Lyrics', a cross between 'Romeo and Juliet' and the Eminem movie '8 Mile' from debuting feature film director Richard Laxton. Set to a hip-hop beat in a (very clean) working class South London estate, the plot revolves around two groups of MCs battling it out at a rapping contest and learning, along the way, Some Very Important Life Lessons.

The lines between real life and fiction blur with So Solid Crew member Asher D aka Ashley Walters playing DJ Danny 'D-Biz' Lewis from the Motion Crew who have won a place in the finals of a local MIC Masters Competition. Their rivals are the Hard Cash Crew, headed up by violent and sleazy record producer Money Man (Regis). There's more than just status at stake for him - he urgently needs the prize money to pay off his debts before he loses more than just the competition.

Things take a Shakespearian turn when Danny falls for the beautiful Carmen (Rose), an aspiring lawyer and occasional singer who also happens to be related to one of the Hard Cash gang. Just to further complicate clichés, she's also somewhat of an uptown girl: he works in a going-to-the-wall vinyl record shop, she's a "HMV, Virgin Megastore type".

Contrived and often predictable, there's simply not enough dirt on show to make 'Life & Lyrics' anywhere close to believable and the film never really manages to punch what should be its true weight. That said, good performances from the central characters, especially the very personable Ashley Walters, give it a substantial lift and make it watchable. The best parts of 'Life & Lyrics' are the energetic rap battles; forget about the plot and concentrate on them.

Caroline Hennessy