Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: "All Eyez On Me" features strong performances, but painfully familiar territory.

All Eyez On Me Review
Whether you like rap or not. Whether you ever heard a single piece of his music or not. Tupac Shakur was one of the most influential music artists who ever walked the Earth. At the age of 25, the year he was fatally shot to death, he had released 15 albums, seven posthumous albums, seven movies and 713 songs. Not only was he a musical and lyrical genius, but he clearly had a hunger deep inside him that any young person of any art or profession should strive for. Even though some of his songs would suggest otherwise, most of his music was trying to reach people, he was a spokesperson for his hood, his community and he was trying to paint a portrait with his lyrics and beats of what he grew up seeing and experiencing. Some of my readers may find this funny since I am a white guy from central Illinois, but I really enjoy Tupac's music, and I've been blown away how much of a deep impact it has had on me.

Frankly, he deserved a much better movie.

I figured the biopic movie was coming back. Especially when it came to famous rappers. In 2009, the film "Notorious" showcased a powerful look into the life of Christopher Wallace, AKA Biggie Smalls, and it was an entertaining and well-made look at his life in the east coast rap game. "Straight Outta Compton" has only grown on me ever since I saw it about two years ago, and if I catch it on HBO or any other outlet, I always stop and watch. I am instantly aborbed once again into the making of N.W.A., a rap group who worked together and concurrently with Tupac. With two fantastic examples of how to tell a great biopic on a rap superstar, and making one about the most influential rap artist of all time (arguably, I know), what could possibly go wrong.

Well, if you were to turn on "Straight Outta Compton" and play "All Eyez On Me" right next to it, you'd feel like you were watching the same movie. Sure, "Straight Outta Compton" is about a rap group; consisting of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella. But the journeys taken by N.W.A. and Tupac are so similar that making a movie about each group so close together is nearly redundant. They were both west coast based rap groups, both experience extreme racism and danger from the California police, both raped about their struggles, both had a positive and negative relationship with Suge Knight, both were in and out of jail, and both were rattled by a death. Watching "All Eyez On Me" feels like I am only seeing a continuation of "Straight Outta Compton," not a movie about Tupac.

The movie is filled with strange decisions that kept pulling me out of the film. Jarrett Ellis plays Snoop Dogg, but when Ellis speaks in the film, I swear it sounds like the real Snoop Dogg's voice is dubbed over his. I paid close attention to his mouth moving when he spoke, and it looked like a bad dubbing, like I was watching a "Godzilla" movie. Either he's the best voice actor of all time, or this was a bad dubbing. Jamal Woolard plays Notorious B.I.G. who also played the same character in "Notorious," the biopic I mentioned earlier. While its kinda cool seeing the same actor play the same character in two different movies, I spent too much time wondering why Anthony Mackie wasn't playing Tupac and I was wondering where Derek Luke was the whole time. It was a distraction more than anything else. I don't think enough people would be able to make that connection in the first place.

Most of all, the most frustrating thing about the film is that it takes too many cues from bad biopics. I don't feel like I learned anything about Tupac as a person, I don't think I got any emotional depth off of him, I don't think I really got what made him tick as a person and why he made certain decisions in this movie. Like most bad biopics, this is a Greatest Hits CD of the big moments in Tupac's life. This is a biopic movie with the emotional impact of reading a Wikipedia article on Tupac. Both "Notorious" and "Straight Outta Compton" worked because I felt like a got a great understanding of why those rappers did what they did, why it mattered to them, why their need to make music was important to their core, I not only understood it but I felt it. I need more than just the lip service, I need the conviction and experience that can only come from a movie.

Demetrius Shipp Jr plays Tupac, and I can tell he's acting his ass off. He does good work here, but the bad mechanics of this screenplay really weighs his character down. This could have launched this rookie actor into a huge career, but sadly it features a story that you forget about right as you leave the theater. "The Walking Dead's" Danai Gurira plays Afeni Shakur, Tupac's mom whom he had a strong relationship with. Gurira and Shipp Jr set off emotional fireworks when they are onscreen together and they do incredibly solid work. Dominic Santana plays Suge Knight and honestly, it just feels like a normal Suge Knight adaptation. He's a greedy, sleazy, intimidating asshole, just like he is in every rap movie. Is there anything else to him. Can a movie provide insight as to why he acts the way he acts?

Tupac was the best rap star ever, this could have been magnificent. I think with the right script and direction, Demetrius Shipp Jr could have been nominated for some awards ceremonies this winter. But I think this script is so ordinary that his work here is going to get overlooked, and that's just sad all around. Like I said before, this guy deserved a much better movie that what he got, and we are all the poorer for it.

FINAL GRADE: C-

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