NEW YORK (CNS) — Radical politics and the wayward values of hip-hop culture take “All Eyez on Me” (Summit), a sometimes intense but overlong and rarely insightful biography of rapper Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.), off course.
Add to these elements a script so laden with obscenities that hardly a sentence of dialogue passes without a visit to the verbal gutter, and the film becomes endorsable for none.
Born into a family of Black Panther activists — Danai Gurira turns in a powerful performance as his mother, Afeni — the future singer and actor confronts the challenges of an inner-city childhood before gaining stardom. Afeni trains him to react to these circumstances partly by educating himself (he eventually becomes a Shakespeare aficionado) but also, more troublingly, through a revolutionary attitude apparently accepting of violence.
Beginning with these early scenes, the script — written by Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian — shows a lack of balance both in its wholesale sympathy for the Panthers and in its entirely negative portrayal of the police. It later depicts former Vice President Dan Quayle as a villain — and a dunce — for questioning the anti-law enforcement tenor of some of Shakur’s lyrics.
Structured around an interview with a fictional, and unnamed, journalist (Hill Harper) during a real stint in prison, the retrospective takes in Shakur’s lifelong friendship with Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), his partnership with rage-prone producer Suge Knight (Dominic Santana) and his romance with Quincy Jones’ daughter, Kidada (Annie Ilonzeh).
Before achieving a more or less stable relationship with Kidada, albeit one that involves living together before marriage, Shakur is shown partaking in the decadent lifestyle often associated with celebrity. This includes group and casual sex as well as deviant acts. Although a minor character calls Shakur out on this behavior, overall, the movie’s tone is one of implicit acceptance.
Where narcotics are concerned, “All Eyez” adopts an ambivalent outlook. While Afeni struggles with addiction and Shakur himself consistently refuses hard drugs, smoking marijuana is presented as essentially harmless.
Rampant materialism, exemplified by bling jewelry and private jets, also plays a role in setting director Benny Boom’s dramatization at odds with faith-based values. While viewers will hardly begrudge the once impoverished Shakur the financial success he earned, the need to wear more than one gold Rolex watch at a time can be questioned.
In fact, rivalry for expensive trinkets may have played a role in the tragic end of Shakur’s story, his still unsolved murder on the streets of Las Vegas 21 years ago. As a postscript to the picture points out, Shakur’s brief life — he died aged 25 — was at least as much marked by creativity as by controversy. But if there are lessons to be learned from it, they are not to be found in “All Eyez on Me.”
The film contains some violence and gore, strong sexual content, including aberrant behavior, cohabitation and rear and upper female nudity, drug use, about a dozen profanities and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.