‘All Eyez on Me’
Director: Benny Boom
Stars: Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira
2 (out of 5) Globes
It’s no fun to report that the 2Pac movie is bad. Bad comes in many flavors, and “All Eyez on Me” is bad in a way that breaks your heart. It’s about an icon whose life story needs telling, made by people who clearly intended to do him right. They’ve fought for it, too: Some 20 years in the making, “Eyez” has survived untold legal battles, multiple bailing filmmakers (including John Singleton) and the apathy of every major studio, who, even after “Straight Outta Compton,” had no interest in funding the tale of a major black figure who sold millions of records. If any movie deserves some slack, it’s this.
But there’s only so much slack to cut. It doesn’t take long to realize something — maybe everything — is off. Well, almost everything: Demetrius Shipp Jr. really does look the spitting image of Tupac Shakur. He’s charismatic, too, if not quite as swaggering as Tupac himself. (Then again, who is?) The movie even gets off to a good start. We mean the very, very start: It begins with audio of a Malcolm X speech. This tells us it will present Shakur as a black power hero, carrying on the revolutionary work of his Black Panther mom (Danai Gurira, another of the film’s good parts). It sets the bar high — far higher than a film this cut-rate, this disorganized, this compromised could ever clear.
At first it’s a simple matter of money. “All Eyez on Me” isn’t Lifetime-cheap (various places cite the budget in the $40-$60 million range, though it doesn’t look it), but it’s hard not to wince at all the cut corners: the copious stock footage inserts, the repeated use of the same hotel room set, the noticeably poor rear-projection car scenes, concert scenes that look like they were filmed by a rando with a smartphone. The writing, on the other hand, is definitely Lifetime-level — superstar movie cliches, laughable dialogue. It’s the kind of biopic where characters tell our complicated hero, “You’re a walking contradiction,” where white label execs praise him by saying, “You paint a picture for the listener. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real.”
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“Straight Outta Compton” had cheesy biopic scenes, too. It also had the talent and the budget to overcome them, to make you feel like you were there alongside N.W.A., witnessing history in the making. “All Eyez on Me” is all Cliffs Notes, as if compiled by a sweaty octopus. You can picture all the cooks in the kitchen, fumbling over how to cram an entire life into one movie, how to paint a rosy portrait of someone with such a checkered past. The movie’s Shakur isn’t always a saint, but is always on his side, no matter what. Once it gets to the sexual assault case that put him in jail, it takes him at his word; when his lyrics are accused of misogyny, the movie cuts to a montage of him gingerly handing money to welfare moms.
Eventually even the black power angle fades away, particularly once Shakur signs up with Death Row Records kingpin Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) — a man quickly becoming the Marvel supervillain of rapper biopics. The film has the cojones to give Knight a scene lifted almost verbatim out of “The Untouchables,” but it’s take on him is downright schizo: One scene he’s a monster, the next a decent and fair man. This is a movie where next to nothing works, with too many things conspired against it. You want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but only the most charitable would say it’s anything but a disaster.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge