All Eyez on Me, the Tupac biopic, is a movie that is going to stir up a lot of old feelings in a lot of ‘old’ dudes. Those of us who lived through the East Coast/West Coast rivalry of the mid 90’s remember the infamous one ups and diss tracks. Some of the greatest moments in hip-hop come from these tracks, like Tupac’s Hit Em up or Common’s I used to love H.E.R.
But what was largely perceived as cock-wagging male silliness eventually turned very serious when paragon of the west coast, Tupac Shakur, was fatally shot. A year later, things escalated even further when the King of New York, The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered while in the city of angels. All of a sudden the macho and bravado lyrics of our favourite rap songs had become a little too real, leading to soul-searching, peace summits and an eventual squashing of the beef between the two coasts.
As one of the most intense periods in the history of hip-hop, it’s no surprise that Hollywood is picking through the past’s bloated remains for movie ideas. So far we’ve had the disappointing Notorious, the triumphant Straight Outta Compton and a myriad of hilarious lifetime movies. But one huge figure remained unmolested by a screen adaptation, he of the Hennessy and the enemies, Tupac Shakur. It seemed odd that one of rap's brightest stars had never been given the silver screen justice he deserved. Sadly, that still remains the case.
All Eyez on Me is at times interesting and at other times woefully cheesy. Demetrius Shipp Jr does a great job as a Tupac simulacrum. We follow his exploits from the cold streets of New York to the slightly less cold streets of Baltimore and eventually the way warmer streets of Oakland California. Here, Tupac meets Shock G of the Digital Underground and becomes the west coast equivalent of Bez from the Happy Mondays. Eventually, Tupac grows tired of shape throwing and wants his taste of the limelight - to which Shock G agrees. The rest, as they say, is history, albeit very badly researched history filled with errors and cheesy acting.
Like Tupac, the movie is all over the place. A lot happened in Tupac’s life but the movie seems happy to lazily re-create the most well known and public moments of it. Little attention is paid to what really made the rapper so intriguing. At one point he is preaching love and peace and prosperity amongst all people, the next he is thug lifing his way all over the place. Yes, the real man appeared to be like this, but why? There is only a surface level exploration on what made the man tick. The opening of the movie that focuses on world-renowned civil rights activist, black panther member and all around bad-ass, Afeni Shakur, seems to exist only to allude to the fact that he gets some of his socially conscious ideas from her. But if this is the case it is only by osmosis.
Altogether more frustrating was how quickly we fly through the Death Row era and the West Coast vs East Coast rivalry. This is the single most intense period in the history of hip-hop and it feels reduced to a mere set of footnotes. What would eventually lead to the deaths of two of the ‘greatest’ rappers of all time, just doesn’t get nearly the time and exploration it deserves. Instead, we get weird tonal shifts that don’t ask any real questions and odd attempts to paint Tupac as some felled and misunderstood messiah.
All Eyez on Me gets some things right, Dominic L. Santana is excellent as the menacing music mogul Suge Knight, but not enough of them to stop this from being a mediocre cash cow. With a little more thought and maybe little balls to further question the good and bad of the man, I think we would have had a better movie. As it stands, All Eyez on Me is a lifetime movie with a slightly bigger budget and a better than usual lookalike.