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All Eyez on Me Movie Review

All Eyez on Me movie poster All Eyez on Me

Theatrical Release: June 16, 2017 / Running Time: 140 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Benny Boom / Writers: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian

Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr. (Tupac Shakur), Danai Gurira (Afeni Shakur), Kat Graham (Jada Pinkett), Hill Harper (Interviewer), Annie Ilonzeh (Kidada Jones), Lauren Cohan (Leila Steinberg), Keith Robinson (Atron), Jamal Woolard (Biggie), Dominic L. Santana (Suge Knight), Corey Hardridct (Nigel), Clifton Powell (Floyd), Jamie Hector (Mutulu), DeRay Davis (Legs), Chris Clarke (Shock G), Ronald Brooks (Money B), Jarrett Ellis (Snoop Dogg), Erica Pinkett (Briana)

 

As quite possibly the single most iconic figure in the history of rap music, Tupac Shakur was bound to get the biopic treatment. What's more surprising is that his story only reaches the screen in 2017, two years after Straight Outta Compton dramatized the pioneering group N.W.A and eight
after Notorious posthumously biographized The Notorious B.I.G.

All Eyez on Me tells Shakur's story from 1971 when he features as a bump in the stomach of pregnant activist Afeni Shakur to his ultimately fatal 1996 Las Vegas drive-by shooting by at large assailants. A good chunk of the film is framed within an interview Shakur is giving a journalist in 1995 from Clinton Correctional Facility, the New York prison where he is serving a sentence for sexual assault charges.

Shakur's upbringing in New York is represented by moments like Christmas 1982, when FBI agents raid his family's apartment after presents are unwrapped. As Afeni (Danai Gurira) wrestles with substance abuse, Tupac (newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr.) is harassed by cops and trained in theatre. He befriends the actress Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) and then after moving to California, hooks up with Digital Underground, letting him provide backup vocals and the occasional verse for the group responsible for "The Humpty Dance."

Newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. portrays rap icon Tupac Shakur in the biopic "All Eyez on Me."

From there, 2Pac (his stage name) emerges as a promising solo artist. He has to defend his breakout song "Brenda's Got a Baby" to the white executives at Interscope Records who fail to see the commercial value in the story of a molested, pregnant 12-year-old who winds up dead. Such hard-hitting tales of urban plight give way to party jams like "I Get Around" and "California Love."

Of course, the rivalry with Biggie that many believe responsible for each iconic rapper's death within six months of each other features. So too does a friendship between 2Pac and the oversized, soft-spoken East Coast rapper (played, again, by Notorious star Jamal Woolard).

All Eyez crams as many famous 2Pac songs as it can and they're all pretty fun. It gives the film the feel of a jukebox musical without a plot. It also pushes the running time beyond comfortable levels, although having a front row aisle seat with wildly distorted angle pretty much removed comfort from the equation for me. Shakur's brushes with the law and criticism from Washington figures like Vice President Dan Quayle add interest and context to the music that has aged terrifically. And then along comes Suge Knight, like a seductive devilish Uncle Phil, to lure 2Pac to the West Coast powerhouse Death Row Records and then quash his plans to move on.

CEO Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) welcomes 2Pac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) to the Death Row Records family in an awkward dinner gathering.

Even from a weird front row viewing angle, Shipp bears a striking and unusual resemblance to the man he plays. He gives himself thoroughly to what is likely to be not just the first but probably the richest role of his movie career.
Unfortunately, the performance is only as powerful as the movie around it allows it to be.

All Eyez is entertaining but not any more enlightening than Shakur's long Wikipedia entry. Director Benny Boom (Next Day Air) and his three lightly seasoned screenwriters don't unearth any secrets to their subject's life nor do they present it with much grace or artistry. Scenes like 2Pac hearing Biggie's "Who Shot Ya?" on a prison yard radio and growing concerned are amusing inventions that are hard to take seriously. The real Jada Pinkett is seemingly the first but not the last person portrayed in the film to take issue with its dramatic license. Able to quote Shakespeare to girls and penal code to overly forceful police officers, Shakur is a genius/martyr whose only flaw is holding loyalty in high regard and lack thereof in low regard.

With all the time it needed to perform original research, recreate decades past, and return hip hop artists to their youth, All Eyez on Me ought to have also taken the time to create a more compelling and concise narrative.

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Reviewed June 16, 2017.



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