- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Tupac Shakur has kept pumping out records long after his 1996 shooting death in Las Vegas. So why should we be surprised to hear him narrating “Tupac: Resurrection” from the grave?

The film, made in collaboration with the rapper’s mother, ex-Black Panther Afeni Shakur, is told entirely in the rapper’s own voice from the many interviews he gave during his brief moment in the limelight.

Mining a trove of still photos, concert footage and news reports, the new documentary pieces together a surprisingly cohesive and compelling chronicle of the rapper/activist/actor’s eventful 25 years.

Credit first time director Lauren Lazin, a seasoned veteran of MTV, for packaging Mr. Shakur’s life in a way even the staunchest hip-hop hater will tolerate. More importantly, Miss Lazin captures one of music’s most complex figures without soft-pedaling his flaws.

At turns charming and humorous, Mr. Shakur seemed perpetually on the cusp of something greater, only to get tripped up by his own image, his imperfections or a cocktail of the two.

“Tupac: Resurrection” opens with — what else? — music and gunfire.

“My embryo was in prison,” he says proudly of his early years. Mother Shakur did some time for what the movie implies were flimsy criminal charges.

Growing up, he turned to “Diff’rent Strokes,” of all shows, as a source of both entertainment and inspiration for an acting career.

Poverty proved his steady companion. His gangsta raps, he said, were his way of dramatizing the horrors of his neighborhood to force public redress.

Some of his maxims might have come straight out of the moral lexicon of virtue arbiter William Bennett.

“You need a man to teach you how to be a man,” Mr. Shakur says of his fatherless childhood. A parade of stepfathers offered him little. Instead, he looked to drug dealers for his identity.

As his career bloomed, he assumed a thug image, spinning the term that everyone else would see as an embrace of criminal behavior. His explanations seemed hollow, especially in light of his repeated arrests.

Much as Malcolm X found his full voice, and sense of purpose, shortly before his death, it seemed as if Mr. Shakur might do the same after serving an eight-month prison term for a sexual assault which he vehemently denied.

The prison term afforded him time to reflect, and he appeared to have emerged from the ordeal stronger until, that is, he aligned himself with notorious rap impresario Marion “Suge” Knight.

Cinders of optimism still flickered within Mr. Shakur in his final days. They were tempered by a sense of his own mortality: He rushes through his final studio sessions as if he alone could hear death’s approaching footsteps.

“Resurrection” clearly takes the rapper’s side, but plenty of the performer’s warts bump their way to the surface.

He gives props to the women in his life, but in life he trafficked in the casually misogynistic profanity of gangsta rap.

Not much is made of Miss Shakur’s crack addiction, a downward spiral which must have affected her devoted son. The Black Panthers are bathed in an adulatory light, when the real Panther story was one of moral ambiguity, opportunism, self-promotion and sometimes outright criminality.

“Resurrection” drags on too long and takes unnecessary cheap shots at the Reagans and Sen. Bob Dole.

Rap may be a relatively new music genre, but what other genre produced as complex an antihero as Tupac Shakur?

Mr. Shakur railed against the American dream in an early song. Audiences might walk away from “Tupac: Resurrection” wishing he’d given himself the chance to fulfill it in his own life.

***

WHAT: “Tupac: Resurrection”

RATING: R (Harsh language, violent episodes and drug use)

CREDITS: Directed and co-produced by Lauren Lazin. Executive produced by Afeni Shakur. Edited by Richard Calderon

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: : FOUR STARS


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