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First Reviews: The Exciting But Bloated Hip-Hop Epic ‘Straight Outta Compton’

First Reviews: The Exciting But Bloated Hip-Hop Epic 'Straight Outta Compton'

Based on the first reviews of F. Gary Gray’s new biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” fans of hip-hop group N.W.A. will be very pleased to see their favorite rappers on screen coming up from behind to take over the music industry. “Compton” follows the rise and fall of N.W.A., the friendship and later rivalry between rapper Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson) and DJ Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), as well as the racial discord in L.A. in the late-’80s through the ’90s. “Straight Outta Compton” captures the youthful energy of the rap group, and how their music and poetry spoke to their experiences but also served as a dangerous threat to the older white establishment. Though the film has a two-and-a-half hour running time and a bloated second half, “Straight Outta Compton” embodies the revolutionary fervor of N.W.A.’s music, and delivers the humanity in their story.

“Straight Outta Compton” opens August 14.

Reviews of “Straight Outta Compton”

Scott Foundas, Variety

[Director F. Gary Gray’s] panoramic film (running a densely packed two-and-a-half-hours) is the story of N.W.A., yes, but also of the city in those same years — a long-simmering discontent that finally erupted into the 1992 riots. But first we begin in 1986 with the DNA of N.W.A. — the friendship between Cube and aspiring DJ Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins), and their courtship of a neighborhood drug dealer, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), to funnel some of his illicit funds into a record label (appropriately dubbed Ruthless) for burgeoning West Coast hip-hop acts. And it’s Wright (brilliantly played by Mitchell, the biggest revelation among the young actors) who emerges as “Compton’s” most compellingly complex character, a hip-hop Napoleon whose small stature and high-pitched voice mask a shrewd business acumen. Even when Gray (who made his feature debut directing the real Ice Cube in the stoner-slacker classic “Friday”) puts “Compton” through the somewhat familiar biopic paces, he brings a richness of observation to the table that transcends cliche. (The exhaustively researched screenplay is credited to Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, from a story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Berloff.) The live performance and recording scenes have the same loose, semi-improvised feel of the ones in the recent Beach Boys drama “Love & Mercy,” especially when Eazy steps up to a mic for the very first time to lay down his hit single “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” and Cube performs an early version of “Gangsta Gangsta” at a nightclub where slow-jam R&B is the house style.

John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

Produced by former N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre (among others) and directed by F. Gary Gray, who started his career with an Ice Cube video and went on to direct his comic outing “Friday,” the result is a self-portrait that predictably softens the edges of careers that generated even more controversy than we see here. But if the movie pushes most of the ugliest behavior off onto side players (like the notorious Suge Knight, played by R. Marcus Taylor), it does for the most part fulfill its mission, breathing life into the origin story of a group whose influence is still being felt. Straight Outta Compton” is most successful at showing the human realities behind a kind of music that, as soon as it was exposed to the mainstream, gave rise to media caricatures and knee-jerk reactions from law-enforcement and conservative groups. (Which isn’t to say it didn’t sometimes court those responses.) Playing the boys who became Cube and Dre, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Corey Hawkins are just teenagers trying to master their crafts — lyric-writing and beat-making, respectively — in a hazard-strewn environment. The script contradicts some published accounts of how these two became collaborators with a drug dealer known as Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell): here, Dre seeks him out as a source of capital. Only after the vocalists they’ve hired to record Cube’s lyrics back out is E cajoled into going on mike himself — and he’s laughably bad until Dre gives some direction.

Mike Ryan, Uproxx

Watching “Straight Outta Compton” — the new biopic on N.W.A., directed by F. Gary Gray (probably best known for directing “The Italian Job”) – it feels like watching “The Avengers” of hip hop biopics. Every character – most of them being a very famous human being who usually doesn’t go by his given birth name – gets his own dramatic introduction, accompanied by on-screen text. Look, I get that I was the perfect age when “Straight Outta Compton” the album came out to fully be enamored with each and every player from that era, but good grief if I didn’t get excited every time someone new was introduced. (BTW, I’m writing this at a bar with wi-fi immediately after seeing the movie. Our server asked what I was writing about. I told her and she gave me an emotional monologue about how much she cried as a 12-year-old when Eazy-E died and how she can’t wait for this movie. I suspect this movie will do well.)

Drew McWeeny, HitFix

It’s a longer film than I expected, but it moves, start to finish, and right down to the end, it keeps offering up amazing takes on the songs, and new faces show up like Tupac (Marcc Rose), along with moments like Cube sitting at home working on a screenplay and laughing about the line, “You got knocked the fuck out!”, something I’m guessing every “Friday” fan will cackle when they hear. Overall, I feel like this film authentic to the way Cube and Dre view things. This is the closest we’re going to get to the absolutely true story, and I think it’s important to see how hard it was for them to stand up and do what they did. I wish we could look at the sequence where they’re warned not to play “Fuck tha Police” or they’ll be arrested and the build up with people talking about they are unacceptable role model because their music “promotes violence” and created a “significant safety risk.” But then we see those exact words used by Chicago Mayor Emmanuel in his explanation of the banning of  a holographic performance by Chief Keef in Chicago just last week. That’s sort of insane, and yet it felt urgent tonight in a way I didn’t expect.

Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

On one level, “Straight Outta Compton” is a pretty traditional music biopic, charting how a famous band got together, came up with some smash singles, enjoyed fame and wealth, and then eventually disintegrated. But the screenplay (written by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, who are both credited alongside S. Leigh Savidge with the story) also wants to dig deeper, examining how N.W.A’s music struck a chord with many who felt alienated and marginalized in America, left behind by a racist society. Vibrant, abrasive tracks like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Gangsta Gangsta” and especially “Fuck Tha Police” weren’t mindless antisocial rants but, rather, pointed political commentaries meant to rattle the white establishment. Gray does a commendable job giving each song its due in the film, showing how N.W.A evolved from some inexperienced guys performing at the local dancehall to a formidable, dangerous touring act, their incendiary songs putting them in the crosshairs of the FBI and police groups.

Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian

As a narrative, the back half of this movie is completely off the rails, but fans of the music will probably be more engaged. There are appearances of other stars that do little more than give the audience a chance to say “Hey, that’s Tupac!” and “Hey that’s Snoop!”. Those who don’t bring outside knowledge to the film will find themselves clueless at a rousing final speech, in which the eventual name of Dr Dre’s record label is invoked. Worse, though, is how it loses all its edge to become hagiography for these men. It’s as if the cheesy second half doesn’t trust the more emotional and realistic first half. When Ice Cube and Eazy-E are still beefing, E refers to Cube’s film Boyz n the Hood as “an after-school special,” then demurs, admitting that he likes after-school specials. Looks like everyone involved in “Straight Outta Compton” did, too.

Yohana Desta, Mashable

But while police brutality is amplified, the dark pasts of these characters is toned way down. This film, like history, was written by the winners. The portrayal of the main trio is fairly neat, their anger always just and caused by one of the villains, be it the police or greedy record executives. For example, Dr. Dre’s baby mama and son Curtis essentially disappear from the film after the beginning, and there’s no mention of his assault on TV host Dee Barnes. Women in general are expendable in this film, mostly half-dressed and willing to do whatever the boys want. Even women who have actual lines — Dre’s mother, his future wife Nicole Young, Eazy’s wife Tomica, Cube’s wife Kim — are one-dimensional, tossed in and given no other purpose than to be there for their men. But then again, this is an origin story about the guys who rapped lines like “You think I give a damn about a bitch, I ain’t a sucker.”

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