STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (director: F. Gary Gray; screenwriters: based on a story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique;; editor: Billy Fox and Michael Tronick; music: Joseph Trapanese; cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre), Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E), Neil Brown Jr. (DJ Yella), Aldis Hodge (MC Ren), Paul Giamatti (Jerry Heller), R. Marcos Taylor (“Suge” Knight); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: R; producers: F Gary. Gray, Ice Cube, Tomica Woods-Wright, Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein and Dr. Dre; Universal Pictures; 2015)
“When it lets its music talk, its rage has street cred.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Brooklyn-born F. Gary Gray(“The Italian Job”/”Be Cool”/”Friday“) tells the entertaining rags to riches story of the West Coast seminal gangsta rap group (at first called “reality rap”) from the 1980s, N.W.A. In 1988 the outsiders laid on us the controversial hip-hop tune of “F–k tha Police”, a timeless incendiary work that became their anthem. It put them on the side of the black protesters who were trying to get word out to the nation that on a daily basis black Americans were abused by the local police. In the end, the outsiders became the establishment and no longer have the same feel to them.
The political/musical biopic was produced by former N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. The story is by S. Leigh Savidge. The writers include Alan Wenkus, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. When it lets its music talk, its rage has street cred. When it tries to get heavy, it turns sentimental and becomes a turnoff. Trying to handle too many subplots and mythologize as noble revolutionists their fellow rappers, the pic never materializes into a believable or cohesive one and only can excite us with its music–that is if you care for hip-hop.
The teen Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Cube’s real son), cunning drug dealer Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) and the frustrated DJ Andre (Corey Hawkins) come together in the studio N.W.A. to bring about, in 1987, Ruthless Records. Its other two members were MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown, Jr.). Their first album is the movie’s title, which was so radical it got the attention of the hip-hop world.
We know there’s racial tension when we see our boys hassled by the cops for hanging out in the street. The rappers are energized by the bias and corruption in the black community. They return the favor by making their Jewish rock manager (Paul Giamatti), a one time friend into an enemy. The veteran manager promised to make them legit, which meant he will bring in a mainstream white audience for them. Something he did.
When the LA riots took place in 1992 over the Rodney King verdict and it grew rampant, the rappers were in the midst of their meteoric rise to fame and fortune and cashed in on an incident that was right up their alley. But things did not remain perfect in their world, as the group splits up over in-fighting and the usual tribulations of the music business. Ice Cube complains he wrote most of the tunes but is not getting paid for it. When the pic runs out of rage, we see their fight is about the money and the film loses its power and the group’s swagger begins to look like just so much showbiz fluff.
The overlong film chronicles N.W.A.’s first cross-country wild-ass tour and dutifully gives us a laundry list of their greatest thrills. We observe the founding of Death Row Records with the former pathological bodyguard Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), the solo successes of Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Dre’s The Chronic. These dull story lines leaves the movie sinking fast, as it goes adrift on material it can’t adequately fit into its story without altering its rhythm.
REVIEWED ON 12/1/2015 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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