Tupac Shakur, one of the most influential and talented rappers in the history of the genre, was many things. He was a poet, an actor, a visionary, but, as many greats throughout history, he was also a complicated man. He was accused of several crimes, and spent time in prison for a sexual assault charge. While he likely did not commit many of the crimes attributed to him, to look past his indiscretions would do him as much a disservice as to ignore his roots, his life and his relationships.
Which is why the new Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, is such a disappointment. The film, promising to tell the “untold story” of Tupac Shakur, plays like a paint-by-numbers biopic, hitting the requisite notes while all but canonizing its subject of focus. While the movie shows several events that shaped both where Tupac came from and how he got to where he was before his untimely death, it offers next to zero insight into what fueled his lyrics, what drove his artistry. Indeed, after viewing the 140 minute film, which absolutely drags at times, I felt as if I’d learned nothing about the man that I did not already know.
Instead, All Eyez On Me is content to simply be a film about Tupac. The film’s lead, newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr., is the spitting image of Shakur, but his performance is uneven and often sounds as if he’s reading his lines from cue cards. Unfortunately, there is little he or any of the film’s other performers can do about a bad script and truly terrible direction from director Benny Boom, whose only other theatrical release was the 2009 stoner comedy Next Day Air. All Eyez On Me has all the production value of a straight-to-video movie, and it occasionally veers into the realm of unintentional humor. Sequences that shape Tupac’s life and legacy often come off as corny or forced, and pivotal moments, like Tupac selling himself to record label Interscope miss the mark entirely, taking formative and potentially powerful scenes and making them cliche and cringeworthy.
While it certainly remains tough to get strong films made about African-American subjects, All Eyez On Me‘s existence likely owes a lot to the success of films like Notorious and, especially, the well-done 2015 hit Straight Outta Compton. That said, it never lives up to those other films, and lacks the emotional weight and impact that a film about Tupac should have.
Mr. Shakur, a recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, deserves a portrayal of his life that is as intricate and complex as he was. Perhaps an HBO miniseries or something of the sort would do the job, but the soapy, campy take delivered in All Eyez On Me does not fit the bill. One of the film’s highlights is a scene in a nightclub where a woman appears to begin the act of fellatio on Tupac. As she heads downstairs the focus zooms onto Shipp, slowly fading away as he takes a long pull from his blunt. This moment of unintentional hilarity sums up the misfire that is All Eyez On Me.