All Eyez on Me Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham. Directed by Benny Boom. Rated R. Now playing citywide.
When Demetrius Shipp Jr. first shows up onscreen as Tupac Shakur in All Eyez on Me, some viewers may do a double take thanks to how closely the actor resembles the late hip-hop legend. But Shipp’s resemblance to Shakur is not enough to build a nearly two-and-a-half-hour biopic around, and director Benny Boom (a music-video veteran whose previous features are mostly low-budget straight-to-video productions) doesn’t have much else to offer, throwing together a Behind the Music-style series of events from Shakur’s life that provides little insight into him as a person or narrative shape to his career.
Newcomer Shipp gives a charismatic if uneven performance, but the movie is so focused on building the rapper up as a genius and an inspirational figure that it fails to give him much depth. Most of the other characters float in and out of the story without making much of an impact, other than occasionally to provide an effective celebrity impersonation. While many music biopics focus on a central romance as the defining relationship in the subject’s life, All Eyez instead highlights Shakur’s bond with his activist mother, Afeni Shakur (The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), and their scenes together give some sense of the responsibility Shakur felt to become a leader in the black community.
But even the most powerful scenes are stuck with clumsy, on-the-nose dialogue and Boom’s cheesy, basic-cable directing style. Much of the movie is framed via a jailhouse interview that allows Shakur to overexplain every moment of his life and answer questions like, “Did you know that record would make you a star?” Despite the frequent exposition and onscreen titles, the timeline is still often unclear, and the limited scope makes it hard to convey just how popular Shakur really was. He was, of course, incredibly popular, and has become even more so since his still-unsolved murder in Las Vegas in 1996 at the age of 25. That legendary status should warrant a better tribute than this pedestrian, forgettable movie, which lacks the vibrancy and creativity that made its subject so beloved.