PLOT The rise and fall of the rapper Tupac Shakur.
CAST Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Hill Harper
RATED R (language, nudity, violence)
BOTTOM LINE A badly botched biopic that won’t earn Shakur any new fans and will disappoint the ones he has.
In the mid-1990s, as rappers topped the charts with songs about inner-city violence, few figures were as fascinating and maddening as Tupac Shakur. His “Thug Life” tattoo and low-slung pants made him the middle-class’ nightmare, even as his soulful eyes and insightful lyrics gave him a poet’s air. When he was gunned down in 1996, fans saw him as a martyr, while detractors saw just another gangster who met a predictable end.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but it’s a truth that proves far too complicated for this botched biopic. Starring newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr., as Tupac and directed by music-video veteran Benny Boom, “All Eyez on Me” is at once too detailed and too simplistic, filled with didactic speeches yet bogged down by soapy drama. Add to this the often amateurish acting and clunky script, and what you have is truly unfortunate.
The trouble starts immediately, when an unnamed journalist (Hill Harper) comes to the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where Tupac is serving time for sexual assault.
It’s a clumsily handled framing device in which the interviewer often sounds like a Cliffs Notes author. “You’re trying to start a positive movement for black people by using negative symbols,” he says. In real life, Tupac was a mesmerizing interview subject, but Shipp can’t muster the same charisma. (He does, however, eerily resemble the rapper.)
From there, “All Eyez on Me” becomes a dull jumble of the usual scenes: The rough childhood with Tupac’s Black Panther mom (Danai Gurira), the fast rise to stardom, the pitfalls of success.
Named after Tupac’s 1996 hit album, the movie lets the rapper entirely off the hook in two troubling instances: A shooting that killed a child (the movie does not say the gun was his), and that sexual assault case, here brought by a woman (Erica Pinkett) painted as a promiscuous liar.
The truth is surely more complicated. The best this movie can do on that front is when our interviewer describes Tupac using that ancient cliche: “You’re a walking contra diction.”