ALL EYEZ ON ME (Benny Boom). 139 minutes. Opens Friday (June 16). See listing. Rating: NN
Tupac Shakur remains hip-hop’s most romanticized artist, with a Shakespearean legacy that far outreaches his contribution to the music.
I was never a big fan of his raps. Biggie was the lyrical genius, while Pac merely had a passion and an ego bigger than Kanye’s. His storied background and career made him ideal fodder for as many documentaries as those posthumous albums – not to mention a portrayal in the limp Biggie biopic Notorious.
All Eyez On Me, taking its name from the rapper’s “out on bail” debut at Death Row, offers yet another exhaustive but narratively stilted approach to Tupac’s life, from the cradle to the grave, adding a few extra details to what’s already been thoroughly covered.
Framed by an interview at Riker’s Island, where Tupac (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) served time for his involvement in Ayanna Jackson’s rape, the movie takes its cues from Tupac’s words. It looks and feels like an objective and clinical wiki-grade rehash, but the interview device is a licence to adopt the rapper’s contradictory version of events when it comes to Jackson, the police officers he shot in Atlanta and six-year-old Qa’id Walker-Teal, a bystander killed during a brawl by someone brandishing Tupac’s gun.
Even Biggie comes off as Tupac painted him. As played by Jamal Woolard, the same dull actor from Notorious, he’s a fame-hungry puppet who just wants to make money off party anthems, not the deeply introspective and critical rapper we hear on songs like Suicidal Thoughts and I Got A Story To Tell.
But the problem with All Eyez On Me goes beyond perspective. By trying to retell everything incident worth remembering about Tupac, the film fails to offer even a few moments of when we can savour the rapper as a living man.
I don’t envy the task director Benny Boom and his three writers took on. There are far too many relevant details and still many unknown elements in Tupac’s 25-year life. He made dramatic shifts from misogynist to a voice for female empowerment, then imploded under Suge Knight’s watch at Death Row.
Tupac’s volatility feels muted here. Ditto the cunning charisma and dynamism he showed in filmed interviews and his movie roles in Juice and Above The Rim. Shipp Jr. does a good-enough impersonation in the Karl Kani gear and all, but he doesn’t bring that fire to the screen that made Tupac such an engaging personality.
That personality towers over his music, his death and this movie.