MOVIE MAN

Straight outta the gate to No. 1 for Compton

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, August 18, 2015

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It looks like the Movie Man made the right choice by going to see “Straight Outta Compton” over “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

The former exploded box office analysts’ expectations while the latter tanked.

ABOUT THE FILM

At its core, “Straight Outta Compton” is just another rags to riches musical biography, an example of record executives taking advantage of a band with something new.

But there was more with NWA (N-words With Attitude). They were saying things in music that had never been recorded before, and that scared a lot of people at the time – and still does today.

Dr. Dre, a group member who is now a billionaire, called the daring approach that became gangsta rap “reality rap,” and its rawness and vulgarity – not to mention its flagrant disdain for authority – made them conservative pariahs.

He was not the only NWA member to find mainstream success. Ice Cube, the group’s primary lyricist, wrote the movie “Friday” and became a bona fide movie star and mogul.

THE PLOT (SPOILER)

In 1987, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) is a DJ who is a genius at creating beats and longs to get his music out into the world. Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) constantly scribbles lyrics into several notebooks, recording what he sees in everyday life, including from his school bus window.

Easy E (Jason Mitchell) is a low-grade thug. Involved in drugs, he truly lives the gangsta life with danger always lurking. But he has cash and flash.

Dre, tired of playing old school music in clubs, convinces Easy E to invest in reality rap, a new truth-based, beat-driven genre that Dre is sure will take off.

The trio’s first record – made with two more guys, DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) – is a local hit and attracts the attention of Jerry (Paul Giamatti). Jerry convinces Easy E that bigger things – much bigger – loom if they will let Jerry guide NWA.

Jerry does and the group explodes. With lyrics profane and “from the street,” the angry NWA is relatable to by more than just excluded minorities. White kids – already fans of rap – fill their concerts.

But there’s trouble behind the scenes. Easy E, the original investor, is taking most of the cash. In fact, the other guys are seeing almost no money. This catches the attention of the intense Ice Cube.

The group’s tumultuous tour culminates with a concert in Detroit where they are told by local police to not play their explosive anti-cop song or face arrest. They do, and they are.

Super thug Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) shows up, wanting in on the action. With his imposing size and brutal intimidation tactics, he’s a force to be reckoned with.

NWA splinters. Ice Cube becomes a solo star, and Dr. Dre records, produces and discovers talent like Snoop Dogg and Tupac. However, Easy E falls on hard times then gets sick. All of NWA agrees to unite, but it comes too late for Easy E who dies of AIDS.

WHAT WORKS

There’s some really nice acting here. The main thrust of the film is Ice Cube’s and Jackson is memorable. So are Hawkins, Mitchell and Giamatti.

There are some electric scenes in the movie. The Rolling Stones were famously told by Ed Sullivan to not sing “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the lyrics were changed. At NWA’s Detroit concert, the group disregards the PD’s ban and the sequence is jolting and explosive when NWA launches into an anti-cop song.

The early scenes are effective as the group begins to come together. A sequence where gangbangers stop a school bus and come aboard to terrify students – including Ice Cube – is scary.

So are scenes at Death Row Records where Suge Knight has created a juggernaut thanks to Dre. Scrawny Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) stands up to Suge in a bravado move. It looks like he’ll surely be crushed by the mighty brute, but Dre saves the day.

The recording sessions shine. All the participants know they are onto something, and their joy and love of music is uncontrollable as they dance in the studio.

BEST SCENE

Ice Cube has an acrimonious split with NWA over money. He records a scathing attack on every member of the group – even Jerry who blows his top when he, a Jew, suffers discrimination firsthand. Band members wince at being jabbed. It’s funny to some until Ice Cube turns his venom on the next guy in NWA.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK (SPOILER)

After a fantastic first hour, the film begins to meander. When the disintegration of NWA comes, the film’s relentless momentum is stymied.

Without question, the gangsta lifestyle is glamorized. NWA may have been unique, but in many regards, they were straight-up lawbreakers. While some of their criminal misdeeds and derogatory attitudes toward women and gays are shown or mentioned, the film focuses more on the artistic side of the rise and fall of NWA. It’s a bit of a cop-out.

MC Ren and DJ Yella get short shrift in the movie, but it’s already very long – too long – at almost two-and-a-half hours.

The worst scene comes when the group tries to console Dre after learning of his brother’s death. It’s supposed to detail the group’s camaraderie, but it’s straight-up maudlin.

THE RATING

This is a hardcore R. There is endless bad language – slurs and cussing – not to mention vivid examples of “rock ‘n’ roll excess” of women, drinking and drugs.

SUMMING UP

“Straight Outta Compton” is a solid music “bio-pic,” telling a story of a time and place and a one-of-a-kind uprising. Naturally, conservatives will be mortified, especially with the flagrant disregard of authority.

NEXT UP

The Movie Man might jump back and find something that’s been in theaters a while since this week’s releases are puny.

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