Straight Outta Compton – Review

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Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Dawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marion Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor, Paul Giamatti
Story by: S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff
Written for the screen by: Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
IMDb Score: 8.0
Metacritic Score: 72
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Nominated for one Academy Award for Best Screenplay

Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.

Movies about rappers or with actual rappers in roles have been…spotty? Yeah, spotty is the nicest way to put it.

Either they are downright horrible (Notorious, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Belly) or just passable or watchable (8 Mile, How High, Juice, House Party), the need for another movie about rappers just sent another cringe down my spine. But, when I realized it wasn’t about Biggie and/or Tupac Shakur, the cringe was lowered to a slight spasm in my rectum.

A movie about N.W.A. would be an interesting film if done right. They no doubt made a cultural impact in the 90’s with their brand of gangster rap, but it could still end up being the lesser movie to have Dr. Dre in it (the other being Krush Groove).

So, how did Straight Outta Compton do?

The movie is about the members of N.W.A., Dr. Dre (Hawkins), Ice Cube (Jackson Jr.), Easy E (Mitchell), DJ Yella (Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Hodge). The film chronicles the meteoric rise and conflicts through their journey of being the kings of the rap world.

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You know those previous films I mentioned in the prologue? Straight Outta Compton blows them away easily. With no question, it is the best movie about hip-hop and/or rap that has ever been made. It destroys 8 Mile and other “good” rap movies and unless Hype Williams actually became a good director of good movies, it will likely stay as the best.

Yet, like saying the best Kevin James movie is Hitch, it’s not really saying much about the quality. Comparing it to other biopics, like Ray, Walk the Line, 24 Hour Party People and I’m Not There, Straight Outta Compton is merely average at best. 

Though there isn’t a glaring flaw or element that rocks the film’s quality, the movie is merely a paint-by-numbers biopic. Because of this, the movie is going to get more of a positive reaction to people who are nostalgic about N.W.A. (me not being one of them).

Nostalgia is a powerful tool that many bio-pics or period pieces use to convey a sense of time and place. Like any media, the use of nostalgia in music is powerful: it instantly transports you to a time and place where that piece of media meant something.

It’s in the use of nostalgia that will dictate a cyclical film like this. Yes, it would be a bad idea to not have any of the music involved with this group, but what if you took out the music anyway? Could this film hold up on it’s own? Is it’s story that interesting or engaging that it transcends the intended audience it’s hitting?

No, it simply does not. This is due to it’s use of nostalgia. Straight Outta Compton uses a very obvious and at times obtrusive means of dosing out it’s nostaglia.

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Compton literally throws in the discography of the group, along with some music from that time, and peppers it in the entire film where that time could have been used to deepen the various plot lines that the movie simply doesn’t delve into.

In fact, plot beats are literally based on the music itself. It really is the only way the film goes forward, which is a shame.

It’s especially a shame when the film decides to make it’s main plot about Easy E and their manager, played by Paul Giamatti, when the main plot should have been more tuned about the issues Ice Cube and Dr. Dre had with said manager.

And let me tell you how enthralling contract talks, financial disputes and white collar thievery is when it’s set behind such hits as California Love and Fuck Tha Police. By going through this plot, it makes the film a completely pedestrian experience.

Again, does it make the film unwatchable? No, but it surely makes the film less interesting. And, seriously, how can you make such a pedestrian film about a group that shook the foundation early 90’s entertainment like N.W.A.?

Not saying that the film should be a mind trip like I’m Not There, but watching the film does nothing but show the timeline of the group with little to no substance, which is it’s biggest crime to the group.

Do we see how explosive Ice Cube’s intolerance for management was? Yes, but it just shows it, it doesn’t give any substance or context to the issues.

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It’s crazy to watch a film about such an important group be so pedestrian and by the numbers. The film does show how different the group was from what’s out there at the time, but it doesn’t make you feel how transcendent they were.

There is a deep, engaging and thought provoking film that can be made with the rise of N.W.A., but it is sadly not this film. It’s entertaining and doesn’t leave you bored, but it seems more interested in in-band politics and misappropriation of business funds then it is on the cultural and profound significance of N.W.A., whose impact is still felt today.

It’s an average film with well above average subject matter. And that is, in the end, the most damning statement on a film that is merely watchable. 

2.5/5 – A purely pedestrian film about a group that deserves so much more.

The Wiz Says #52

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