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All Eyez on Me

As I sat down to write my review, I thought about how much time I should devote to stuff that I felt the movie made up. Just as the N.W.A. movie Straight Outta Compton did…we’re lead to believe that every cop that comes up to Tupac Shakur is to call him “N****r” just for jaywalking, before punches to the stomach. Or a cop that says, “Get back in your car, n****r” as he is making an arrest (Tupac then pulls out a gun and shoots the cop). And when Tupac goes to jail, the white prison guard pins him against the wall his first day, calling him the n-word before beating him up (as a black prison guard does, too). Why would anybody believe that happened? Especially when we know Tupac got in many fights he started. He obviously had a temper. And let’s say the cops did rough him up for mouthing off. We’re supposed to feel that’s so horrible, but he can stand there laughing, on three different occasions, when Suge Knight (co-founder of Death Row Records) beat people up right in front of him. So…it’s okay when others get beaten to a pulp, just not him? And just not him when he’s breaking the law. Got it.

And just as I turned on my computer, I see that Jada Pinkett Smith is ticked about how all of her scenes in the movie were fictionalized. So that pretty much confirms to me that lots of stuff in this movie is fiction. The scenes that weren’t made up, often felt like they were just taken off a Wikipedia page and done as a standard, VH1 style bio-pic. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining. It had lots of fun moments. How can you not love seeing Tupac’s smiling face on stage tasting fame with Digital Underground ( The Humpty Dance); or seeing Snoop Dog laying down some early tracks with a huge afro?

The movie starts off with Tupac’s mom, a Black Panther, winning a court case in 1971. Now, she actually has things to rebel against (although it’s hard to have sympathy for her being followed by the FBI when her boyfriend robbed some banks). It’s fun to see Tupac and that smile, as he’s enjoying a drama class with future Hollywood star Jada Pinkett.

A few critics have said that actor Demetrius Shipp Jr. looked like Tupac but didn’t capture his essence. Oh please. He was terrific in the part. I’m a huge Doors fan, and they said the same thing with Val Kilmer in The Doors movie. It’s not so much that an actor doesn’t capture the essence, it’s the script and direction of the movie that will make or break that for the viewer.

One of the many frustrating things about this movie is it wants to sugarcoat things. The N.W.A. movie did the same thing. Tupac had the words “Thug Life” tattooed on his stomach, yet we’re supposed to feel bad for him when thugs rob him and shoot him five times. Or when he goes to a park in his neighborhood to give back to the community, and a fight starts. A stray bullet hit a little girl nearby. Another time, in one of the many moments of him getting mixed up with the wrong crowd, he has sex with a groupie type that’s with one of the shady characters. She then claims Tupac raped her. He’s arrested, and ends up going to jail for 18 months. The movie wants us to believe he did nothing wrong. If not, .he’s certainly stupid for even getting mixed up with her. Especially after the first incident he had with her.

Another frustrating thing was the length of the movie and what they decided to show. It was almost 2 ½ hours long. An early scene shows Tupac coming home from school, with some pizza for his little sister. He was obviously a good brother (and son), yet once he gets famous, we basically never see her again. After his mom gets out of rehab, she has a throw away line about her and how she’s a good mother. Instead, we get lots of concert scenes and studio shots. Now, watching Brian Wilson working on Pet Sounds in Love & Mercy (which wasn’t as good as this)…made a bit more sense. He was a genius in the studio, and there’s something more interesting about a guy having various people making sounds with weird items, animals, and instruments. With rap, it’s one guy creating some beat and we watch as Tupac writes down words, or yells at the producer to slow down the track. Sure, there’s some fun in seeing legends like Snoop and Dr. Dre depicted in the studio.

It was interesting to see the scenes of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac becoming friends, and how one song by Biggie changed that, and basically created the East Coast/West Coast thing.

I suppose we’re all supposed to love Tupac because he did a song about a girl that was molested and had a baby (Brenda’s Got a Baby), or welfare moms (Trapped, Keep Ya Head Up). He dabbled in poetry, and made a few movies. He also stayed away from hard drugs, after seeing what that did to his mom. The movie never explains how Tupac could be raised by such a strong black woman who taught him to respect women and his roots and yet his songs and actions in the movie show misogynist lyrics and actions as well as a complete lack of control when anyone seemingly disrespects him; he flys off the handle, violently. It’s a shame he didn’t even make it to the 27 Club, because he had talent.

Another mistake was the framing device director Benny Boom (Next Day Air) went with. It’s the journalist interviewing Tupac in prison, so they can go to various flashbacks on his life.

One terribly corny scene involved a meeting with Ted Field of Interscope Records. They want a few of the controversial songs to stay off the record, and within two minutes of being charmed and given a lecture by Tupac, they smile and agree. It was as goofy as a similar scene in The Buddy Holly Story, but that was from 1978. That was so long ago, Gary Busey was actually considered a guy with talent, not a nutjob appearing on reality shows.

It would’ve been a bit more interesting to see how he was actually getting movie parts. The music side, we saw. Yet all the sudden, he started getting movie roles. How did that happen?

Danai Gurira is solid as Tupac’s mom. She has the cliched story arc you’d expect.

Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries) is good playing Jada Pinkett. Since Pinkett said all her scenes were made up, it makes me wonder if she then approved of the often misogynistic lyrics. In the movie, she seems to be down with ‘em (in real life, she married a rapper that was dissed by the rap community for not being hard enough).

Dominic Santana plays a menacing Suge Knight rather well, although a scene that is taken straight from The Untouchables was odd.

Jarrett Ellis sounded so much like Snoop Dogg, I almost wondered if they dubbed in Snoop’s voice.

Annie Ilonzeh (Empire) plays Kadida, who is Quincy Jones’ daughter, and didn’t like some comments Tupac made about her daddy and white women. Yet it doesn’t stop her from becoming his girlfriend. Yet the relationship felt forced. And you again have to wonder about a guy who, seemed to try so hard to get her, but after he does…would rather spend his nights clubbing with his homies.

Lest you think I’m some middle-aged white guy hating on Tupac and rap, I was in 5th grade when the first rap song — Rapper’s Delight — came out. I thought it was a goofy novelty hit, but the guys I played basketball with — we all loved Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash (I still think “The Message” has some of the best lyrics ever). I could get down with Boogie Down Productions, and then KRS-One, and in high school, I got all the Beastie Boys albums. At SDSU, I was in a basketball tournament and a friend let me borrow his NWA and Public Enemy CDs. I even had a great conversation with Chuck D (Public Enemy) when he spotted me wearing a James Brown shirt. I know the history and I can appreciate good lyrics. I just always found Tupac’s lyrics a bit overrated.

Sadly, with all the lyrics he sang about bitches and ho’s…his disrespect of women is basically what landed him in jail, as the reporter in the movie stated. And even if it didn’t land him in jail, what kind of example is he setting? For a guy that likes to quote Shakespeare and seems to be romantic…getting a BJ in a club from a woman and treating her like crap doesn’t make you cool.

So you can enjoy his songs, and appreciate his lyrics, but perhaps you can also learn something from all the idiotic things he did in his life, which lead to his death at 25 (Oh…spoiler alert if you didn’t know that).

This gets 2 stars out of 5.