By Kim Hughes
For a movie about a charismatic performer who transformed the hip-hop playbook and cemented his mythology before being murdered at age 25, there’s something curiously flat about All Eyez on Me, the long-awaited biopic of American rapper/actor Tupac Shakur.
It’s easy (fun, actually) to speculate on how the movie might have been electrified if either Antoine Fuqua or John Singleton – both previously attached to the troubled production - had directed instead of Benny Boom, best known for helming music videos. But we have what we have, and it’s hard to imagine Shakur fans feeling their man got his props.
All Eyez on Me faithfully follows the story of the rapper from his East Harlem childhood at the knee of Black Panthers to his crucial West Coast relocation and onward, with all the climaxes checked off: his launch with Digital Underground, his friendship with Jada Pinkett, rivalry with Biggie Smalls, romance with Kidada Jones (Quincy's kid), his prison stint and his recordings.
And, of course, there’s his fateful connection to Suge Knight, the Machiavellian Death Row Records co-founder and lynchpin of the East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry that (maybe, probably, who knows?) resulted in Shakur’s violent death in Las Vegas in 1996.
Yet the film feels rote, despite some very strong performances - notably from newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. in the title role, Danai Gurira as his sparkplug mother and Jarrett Ellis as a wily and perpetually blunted Snoop Dogg (whose voice, Boom has hinted, may be be the real Snoop’s dubbed in). It also lacks a sense of depth, a deeper insight into what made Tupac Shakur tick.
Somewhere between the surrealist punch of Todd Haynes' epic I'm Not There and the stark realism of Anton Corbijn's Control (about doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis) lives a powerful biopic about a kaleidoscopic wordsmith who burned bright and was cut down. Maybe that film is still a decade away, but All Eyez on Me isn’t it.
All Eyez on Me. Directed by Benny Boom. Starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper and Danai Gurira. Opens wide June 16.
An entertainment/lifestyle writer and editor of an exquisite vintage, Kim has written about film, music, books, food, wine, cosmetics and cars for the Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, Report on Business, Amazon.com, hmv, Salon, Elevate, CBC, Spafax and many other marquee properties. She lives in Toronto and is a proud volunteer with Annex Cat Rescue.