All Eyez on Me, 2017.
Directed by Benny Boom.
Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr, Jamal Woolard, Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Jamie Hector, Lauren Cohan, Dominic L. Santana, Grace Gibson, and Harold House Moore.
The true and (supposedly) untold story of the prolific rapper, poet, and actor Tupac Shakur.
Did you know Tupac took up ballet when he was a teenager? Did you know that he dated the daughter of the local chapter of the Communist Party USA? Did you know that Tupac’s rap career began as a roadie and as a background dancer to Digital Underground?
The answers to those questions should be in this biopic. A film with the subtitle: ‘The Untold Story of Tupac Shakur’ one would expect some interesting anecdotes. Instead, the film offers an inane and uninspiring biopic that’s more interested in skimming over his life, briefly looking at some details, and project the public image that many are already acquainted with.
Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) is introduced as an inmate at a high-security State Penitentiary, being interviewed by someone credited as Interviewer (Hill Harper). Tupac tells him (us) about his early years in the East Harlem projects. First, how his mother (Danai Gurira), a Black Panther, was pregnant with Tupac at the time of her release. Then, he tells him (us) of his relationship with his activist step-father Mutulu (Jamie Hector), who showed the young Tupac of the institutionalised racism, further intellectualised (briefly) by his mother. And then, before the film has the chance to deal with this big matter, it leaps ahead to the next moment in Tupac’s life. Throughout the film suffers from this ploughing through the early years of Tupac’s life, believing it’s his later years that audiences would only be interested in.
Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), Will Smith’s now-wife, had a tremendous impact on Tupac’s life. It was a friendship and a bond that Tupac proclaimed that he had never felt with another human being. Criminally, this relationship is shown in three very short scenes: when they first meet; when Tupac recites a poem to Jada; and when he tells her that he has to leave for California.
This negligence is more frustrating when the film, much later on, decides to pause the biopic structure for 5 minutes and changes into a concert video. At 2 hours and 2 minutes, the film shouldn’t have time for this sort of thing. The film rushes past all the personal strife and focuses too much attention on the glitz and glam; stuff that many people would already know going into this.
It doesn’t help matters when the other actors portraying equally prolific individuals are questionable. Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) has been sanitised to a faux-gangster portrayal. (Knight was given a better, and more terrifying, portrayal in Straight Outta Compton). Biggie (Jamal Woolard) is hardly in it. Finally, there is Jarrett Ellis’ terrific impression of Snoop Dogg. The voice work is impeccable, but Snoop’s relaxed vocals are so iconic in popular culture that hearing that voice come out of a skinny, non-Snoop-looking-Snoop does no-one any favours. Audiences will chuckle at disbelief – not discrediting the voicework (far from it), but simply how good it is in an otherwise poorly structured, poorly written, and irritatingly cheesy film.
All Eyez on Me plays out like a supercut of a much better TV show. It skips past all the interesting chapters in Tupac’s life, cherry picks what to cover, and chooses to focus on the public persona. Before you’ve finished your Coke, Tupac is already touring as a rapper with Digital Underground. No-one will learn anything new – well, maybe that Tupac got the role in Juice due to a scheduling conflict.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★