Tweetable Takeaway: Straight Outta Compton is energetic and well acted, but overlong.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
If nothing else, Straight Outta Compton gets mad props for somehow tracking down and sticking in these actors who look and sound incredibly close to their young counterparts. Suge Knight, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre are a few of the remarkable doppelgangers. The actor portraying Ice Cube especially channels the man with an eerie resemblance. The only thing I can think of is they somehow got a hold of Ice Cube’s DNA and grew a child off it. Almost like some kind of Ice Cube offspring…
Based on the true story of five artists who founded N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton is an kinetically enjoyable, if overlong, telling of the group’s history. Straight Outta Compton often has so much ground to cover, sequences are rushed, and events glossed over. There’s still the biopic formula within, the meteoric rise, the problems at the top and subsequent fall and the leveling out. At its most crowded, Straight Outta Compton juggles seven individuals at any given time. At its most streamlined, the movie follows three: Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre. Which is great when it does focus on those three, though too often it’s being stretched in too many directions. Still, Straight Outta Compton is energetic and well acted enough to warrant at least one viewing.
We begin in the late 80’s in Compton, California, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) is entrenched in selling drugs. Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) plays DJ at a local club and struggles to make enough money to survive on. Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., the actual son of Ice Cube) has a notebook full of rhymes. The three team up, along with Dj Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and craft their first single, Boyz-n-the-Hood. A scene later and their music has caught the ear of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), who wants to manage their musical act. Heller brings several record label representatives to a performance, and only Priority Records sticks it out, willing to sign the group on the spot.
Both the music creation and label signing are portrayed effortlessly and streamlined in the film, almost as if it took no less than three days for the group to go from rags to riches. Of course it’s obvious such a rise isn’t that easy, but there’s no struggle at all before the group is rolling in money and throwing extravagant parties. There’s a lot of story the movie wants to get telling and only has 147 minutes to do it, but the best scenes come in the group’s earlier stages rather than the endless bickering and lashing that come after the fame.
The struggle for N.W.A to tell their stories, to sing their songs that represent their experiences growing up in Compton amid gangs and racist cops only invites more controversy and resistance, and is consistently compelling. When fame and fortune comes, it’s the same contract disputes and group splitting up we’ve seen plenty of times before. The battle for money is more threatening this time around, with various group members more willing to employ methods they’ve grown up around.
At one point Suge Knight beats Eazy-E up to attempt to get E to release Dr. Dre from a contract. Eazy-E has to be talked out of killing Suge by Jerry Heller. The scenes that follow the break-up of N.W.A are never boring, but taken all together, they don’t add up to much either. We pop in and out of each man’s life, seeing what he’s up to, what song he’s working on and group each man is a part of, we visit the incident of Rodney King and Eazy-E’s AIDs diagnosis.
They’re all events that happened, to be sure, but in this movie only act to lengthen the movie out almost unreasonably. The intensity and thematic focus the movie has in the beginning is all but deflated by the end. The most the movie has to say is, Hey, we were a hugely popular and controversial group that broke up, we had some good times together, and a few of us are popular actors and made billions off Beats headphones. Straight Outta Compton remains an enjoyable piece of work with fantastic performances and direction. It’s the inclusion of too many events and scattershot threads that unfortunately bring the movie down.
I give Straight Outta Compton 3 Suge Knight doppelgangers out of 5
Score: 3 out of 5