In the wake of the success of F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton (2015), further biographical renderings of influential figures within the hip hop community were an inevitability and there seems no better candidate for such a treatment than Tupac Shakur, the west coast rapper shot dead in Las Vegas at the age of 26 at the height of his success. To this day, Shakur remains a revered figure amongst hip hop aficionados and his story seems perfect fodder for the big screen, which is why it is such a shame that All Eyez on Me is so tedious and tepid in its telling, failing to capture any of the charisma that Shakur supposedly possessed. It is hard to imagine that a movie set in this world could be so uninspired, but director Benny Boom presents a biopic that is more like the insipid schlock that Australian commercial television networks might churn out (think recent efforts such as Molly or Brock for example) than the dynamic, energetic exploration of a talented individual that we might reasonably expect.
The framing device for the narrative is an interview with Shakur whilst he is in prison and the film quickly becomes a hodge-podge of fragments from Shakur’s life, playing out like one long (very long) montage of moments. Few sequences run longer than a couple of minutes and this never allows the audience to develop any real understanding of the character. The journalist (Hill Harper) is seeking Tupac’s version of the events that shaped his life, which is fine, except we only ever get that one side of the story as Boom makes no effort at objectivity. Despite being incarcerated and involved in some decidedly dodgy dealings, the film seems to excuse Shakur for his actions and the misogyny and slut-shaming that surrounds the sexual assault for which he was jailed is particularly worrisome. Furthermore, whilst lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr does bear a resemblance to Tupac, his performance is not particularly convincing and fails to provide much access into Tupac’s thoughts, talent or personality, although that is probably more to do with the superficial screenplay from Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian than anything else. Even the concert sequences lack any sense of excitement, failing to present Shakur as a particularly dynamic performer.
Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis) and Dr Dre (Harold Moore) are amongst the myriad hip hop identities who appear at various stages, particularly once Shakur signs with the notorious Suge Knight (Dominic Santana) at Death Row Records, but the best of the supporting cast are Kat Graham and Annie Ilonzeh as Jada Pinkett and Kidada Jones respectively. Pinkett befriended Shakur when they were both students at the Baltimore School of Arts and, according to this version of events, remained a voice of reason, cautioning her friend about the potential pitfalls of becoming entrenched in his self-proclaimed thug life, while Jones was engaged to Shakur at the time of his death. It is actually difficult to understand why Jones became involved with Shakur given that he had made some very distasteful comments about her music producer father. Speaking about Quincy Jones in a magazine interview, Shakur declared that “all he does is stick his dick in white bitches and make fucked up kids”, prompting Kikada’s then 17-year-old sister Rashida to write a scathing response. Because we never get a glimpse of the charm or contrition that Shakur must have wielded in being able to convince Kidada of his worth (and apparently making amends with both Rashida and Quincy as well), you find yourself questioning what the hell she is doing with him. We never see the real human connection that obviously existed between Tupac and Kidada because Boom never spends long enough on any aspect of the story to deliver any real insight into the character/s. He never lingers long enough to establish a rhythm and just when it feels as though something meaningful is happening, he moves on to something else.
The most frustrating thing of all is the fact that despite (or perhaps because of) Boom’s rapid-fire approach to covering as much as possible in as little detail as possible, the whole thing becomes quite boring and, given that you already know how the story ends, you find yourself wishing that this Tupac would just hurry up and die already. Thankfully, the film ends immediately after the shots are fired, a very long 140 minutes after it began. Some solid supporting performances aside, there is little to recommend in this formulaic biopic that leaves you with no idea of why Tupac Shakur was such a big deal and why his legacy continues to loom large some 25 years after his murder, which remains unsolved. Boom’s intentions may be noble, but ultimately All Eyez on Me is neither informative nor entertaining.