Much like Straight Outta Compton, I don’t put much stock in All Eyez On Me‘s version of the Tupac story, but it’s plenty fun to relive all the old narratives we loved back in the ’90s. The women! The beefs! The music! The murder! This long-gestating biopic from music video director Benny Boom certainly doesn’t shatter any myths and barely elaborates on existing ones, but to a certain extent, all these movies have to do is create a dramatic build for the opening bars of “Boyz In Da Hood” or “California Love.” The songs themselves have a narrative and an emotional resonance that transcends any scene you might put around them.
All Eyez On Me‘s hokey narrative structure, which literally follows Tupac from fetus to corpse, wouldn’t play if its subject was, say, Eli Whitney. But when it’s a sexy charismatic rap star who died in a hail of bullets at 25, it’s fine. Any time things get boring, you can just film some naked groupies or crank up another Tupac song and half the audience will get goosebumps all over again. All Eyez On Me doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel and it knows it.
There are practical limits to what an authorized biopic can actually accomplish. Unless you want to hear “T-Pac” rap “this is for my neighbor Caitlyn,” the artist’s estate has to approve, and Afeni Shakur‘s squabbles with All Eyez On Me‘s producers are well-documented. She died just after the film wrapped, so it’s impossible to say what she would’ve thought of the final product, but her character is easily the weakest of the film. Beginning with her first scene, clad in a black leather jacket and speaking to reporters on the steps outside a courthouse after the acquittal of the Panther 21, Afeni’s lines are all voice-of-God rants of the kind Keenan Ivory Wayans would’ve popped out a window to say “message!” after in Don’t Be A Menace. Danai Gurira delivers them all with a histrionic conviction that makes you ache for the next scene.