MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Benny Boom. Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira. Rated R
Tupac Shakur’s (Shipp Jr.) life was brief and complicated. He grew up as a child in a family of Black Panthers but was encouraged to achieve greatness by his mother Afeni (Guriria). Tupac developed an early interest in acting and attended a high school for the performing arts where he showed great promise and developed a love for Shakespeare. One of his friends was the actress Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham) and their friendship would continue throughout his life. Shakur not only had a gift as a songwriter but a natural presence as a screen actor. He would begin recording music at the age of 16, finding fame first as a member of the band Digital Underground (creators of the catchy “Humpty Dance”). His talent was quickly recognized but his music also vilified for its violent and misogynistic subject matter. Tupac was involved in more than a few legal battles including wrongful death, assault, and jaywalking. He survived an attack in a recording studio in which he was shot five times. Shortly thereafter he was found guilty of sexual assault (the charge was later appealed) and while serving nine months in prison he had a number one album on the Billboard charts. He became more famous following his release, joining legendary producer Suge Knight’s (Dominc L. Santana) Death Row Records and beginning a big West Coast – East Coast feud with rival rapper Biggie Smalls (Jamal Woolard). Both rappers would die from acts of violence within six months’ time.
Why did I spend so much time sharing so much information about Tupac? It was for the same reason All Eyez on Me was created: Tupac’s life was short and complicated and his genius and potential for greatness short-circuited by bad business decisions and the inexperience of youth. At the time of his death at the age of 25, Tupac was showing signs of maturity and a new positivity. In 2016, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was the real deal.
And then there’s All Eyez on Me. I may not know much about rap music but I do know a bad movie when I see it, and this film is one of the worst movies that I have ever seen. It is also incredibly entertaining and I predict that it could eventually reach cult status. Demetrius Shipp Jr. looks a lot like Shakur but has none of the screen charisma of his character. Danai Gurara is a great actress (her breakout role as Michonne in The Walking Dead is proof of that), but she overplays most of her scenes. The business deals are awkward and clumsy, involving briefcases of cash and much bling. Dominic L. Santana is unconvincing in his role of Suge Knight (depicted here as a gangster Satan) and the staging of most scenes reminded me of a bad high school play. The sets are cheap and most of the characterizations are cliché, but I had a certain affection for Jarret Ellis’ Snoop Dogg who shows up in the last chapter.
Gifted film and television director Ernest Dickerson (who directed Shakur in 1992’s Juice) wisely left this project and hopes to do his own film version of Shakur’s life. That would be poetic justice indeed.
One halo: The world needs to remember the music of Tupac Shakur, but it should probably forget this film.
Four pitchforks: You name it, it's got it: Swearing, sex (including off-screen rape), violence (including beatings and shootings), drug abuse, nudity, blackmail, deceit, and a lot of bad acting.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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