Despite being white as a glacier, utterly middle class, and having grown up in a Canadian ski town, I'm a gangster rapper by trade and a West Coast gangster rapper by specialty. So while I've never "slanged crack on the corner of Lorimer," I've certainly "rolled hard down Blackcomb Boulevard" (and in a '63 lowrider, no less). For me, 1990s hip hop offered a glimpse of a world so foreign to my own that it was impossible to not be drawn in.
I also once smoked my hero Ice-T off the stage at the Alpenrock Bar, so by white, West Coast Canadian, ski town gangster rapper standards, I am definitely OG'd up from the feet up.
As such, I was both excited and very wary of All Eyez On Me, the new Tupac Shakur biopic that opens this week at the Whistler Village 8. Gunned down in 1996, Tupac was one of hip hop's most complex and engaging icons. He had a liquid flow, meaningful lyrics, and an unparalleled style and swagger.
Successful on both coasts, there was a controversial duality to Pac that couldn't be ignored: he was charged with sexual assault but also wrote some of hip hop's most powerful songs championing black women. He was a thug and a revolutionary, a poet and a felon. He also got shot five times in a robbery and checked himself out of hospital three hours after surgery. Love him or hate him (most people loved him, Pac sold over 75 million albums worldwide within a decade of his death), no one can deny he was a deep character.
He was also one of the first rappers to legitimately cross over into a film career. After a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo with Digital Underground in 1991's gonzo (and pretty shitty) Dan Aykroyd comedy Nothing But Trouble, Pac hit his stride playing Bishop in the 1992 hit Juice (one of the best DJ movies ever). He later embraced more varied roles in Poetic Justice (with Janet Jackson), Above the Rim (notable because the soundtrack outsold the movie) and posthumous flicks like Bullet, Gridlock'd and Gang Related.
Tupac was a legend so All Eyez On Me has huge expectations on it, and it doesn't live up to them.
This isn't to say the film is total crap, but rather that this should have been hip hop's The Godfather (or at least its Apocalypse Now). Instead, music-video director Benny Boom delivers an adequate retelling of Pac's life, starting with his pregnant mother, 1970s black militant Afeni Shakur, raising hell and carrying through all the way to his tragic, violent and unsolved death.
Set (thankfully and not surprisingly) to Pac's own music, All Eyez On Me will engage fans with nostalgic wistfulness but it glosses over too much too quickly and the character behind the rhymes doesn't have the space to flex his nuance. Actor Demetrius Shipp, Jr. does a bang-up job channeling Pac's prolific cadence, compassion and charm but the film can't dig deep enough to do the man justice. It might have been an impossible bar to clear, but All Eyez on Me never gets high enough to try. It is worth watching, but definitely not epic.
For an example of an iconic musical biopic done right, or at least done so far outside the box that it works, the Download of the Week is I'm Not There, the Todd Haynes tribute to Bob Dylan that starred seven different actors (including Cate Blanchett) playing various aspects of Dylan's mythology, life, and artistic legacy. For fans, this one adds to the icon, and that is hard to do.
Also opening this week, a fifth Transformers film. Does anyone remember anything about the last one, or even the second one? Other than introducing the world to Megan Fox, can you really credit this clunky crapfest franchise for anything of value? And yet they keep on making them. Go ahead and see this one if you like, I'm going to save the 14 bucks and just throw my running shoes and a handful of marbles into the clothes dryer instead.
We have a Wednesday release of Edgar Wright's heist/getaway flick Baby Driver coming up, plus a long weekend and it looks like summer is truly here, so roll down the windows, get those dubs in the air, crank the Mobb Deep, pour some on the block for the homies and remember, we're all in the same gang.