Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Jamal Woolard, Kat Graham, Dominic L. Santana, Lauren Cohen, Jamie Hector, Annie Ilonzeh. Directed by Benny Boom. (2017, 140 min). SUMMIT/LIONSGATE
Fairly or not, All Eyez on Me will inevitably be compared to Straight Outta Compton. The latter gave us a nearly-epic story with rounded, three-dimensional characters. One didn't necessarily need to be an NWA fan to appreciate their musical influence and cultural impact. It also happened to be one hell of an entertaining film.
Surely an artist as charismatic, influential and culturally polarizing as Tupac Shakur is worthy of an equally compelling biography. But comparatively speaking, All Eyez on Me doesn't even come close.
It's certainly not the fault of newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr in the lead role. He looks and sounds uncannily like Tupac, right down to his mannerisms and stage presence. However, his remarkable performance can't overcome the film's fatal flaws. The most tumultuous aspects of his life, career and conflicts (with both police & peers) are touched upon - perhaps overly-speculated - but seldom explored in any depth before moving on, ultimately ending with his untimely demise.
Despite the movie's oppressive length, Tupac goes from zero-to-famous within the first thirty minutes, and after that, we don't really learn much about him beyond what countless tabloids have already told us. Not only are most of Tupac's well-publicized conflicts presented almost without context, the film suggests few of his issues were really his fault. It's been well-publicized that the man was no saint, so why does this film feel the inclination to consistently offer up Tupac as a victim?
Aside from Tupac's troubled mother, Afeni (Damai Gurira, in a surprisingly empathetic performance), most of the other characters come across as mere symbols of their real-life counterparts. Their relationships with Tupac - good or bad - are dutifully documented, but never revealing enough to engage the viewer. For example, it's long been speculated that the rivalry between Tupac and Biggie Smalls was the catalyst for both of their murders. Here, the complexities of that dynamic relationship - if not the entire East-Coast-West-Coast rivalry - are summed up in a scene or two.
In the end, I don't feel like I know Tupac Shakur any better than I did before. All Eyez on Me plays like a cross between a greatest hits album and a Cliff's Notes booklet, skimming the surface and covering all the highlights without giving the viewer a comprehensive portrait of its subject. Comparisons to Straight Outta Compton may indeed be unfair, but even on its own terms, this film is a massive disappointment.
- FEATURETTES: "Legends Never Die: The Making of All Eyez on Me"; "Becoming Tupac"; "All Eyez on Me Conversations"; Demetrius Shipp Jr. Audition"
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