Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

2.5/4

Starring: O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, R. Marcos Taylor, Tate Ellington, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge

Rated R for Language Throughout, Strong Sexual Content/Nudity, Violence and Drug Use

It is ironic that the biopic of the innovative, revolutionary and controversial rap group "N.W.A." is so ordinary.  Particularly when there are plenty of fascinating avenues for it to explore.  It pays lip service to them but seems to be satisfied with merely mentioning them.  Still, the group's story is engaging and the performances work, but a muddled screenplay that tries to do too much hurts the film.

The film details the rise and break-up of the group, whose members include Ice Cube (Jackson), Dr. Dre (Hawkins), Eazy-E (Mitchell) DJ Yella (Brown) and MC Ren (Hodge).  Looking for away to express their rage at the injustices they feel are put upon them (mainly by the police), they form a rap group whose lyrics are not the sex-obsessed stuff that's par for the genre.  Initially, they are met with stiff resistance by those who have the means, thinking that no one would listen to such angry music, but their audience grows.  Soon, a man named Jerry Heller (Giamatti) offers to manage them, and the band takes off.  But it's not without controversy, and a rift over money eventually breaks them up.

There are many compelling issues that "Straight Outta Compton" approaches, but director F. Gary Gray doesn't dive into them with much vigor.  For example, at one point they say that "our music reflects our reality," but Gray pretty much leaves it at that.  A look at how their lives influence their music could have been truly enlightening, but merely showing that getting harassed by the police leads them to write their notorious song "Fuck the Police" doesn't really cut it.  Nor does merely showing larger and larger crowds convey how they gave voice to a huge amount of people.  This could have, and should have, been explored with more depth and insight.

The four main characters, Ice Cube (who is portrayed by his son), Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Jerry Heller are well-portrayed but sketchily developed.  They're personality deprived, which robs the film of a lot of its power.  Furthermore, Gray struggles to give all of the characters their own plotlines, but there's simply too much material.  It's not that Gray can't develop a story with multiple characters ("Set it Off," a film that covered similar ground to much better effect, is a fine example), but he fails to do so here.

I won't say that "Straight Outta Compton" is a bad movie because it isn't.  It's consistently compelling, and, coming from a guy who doesn't like rap music, it contains great songs.

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