'Pac, Man

The officially sanctioned Tupac Shakur biopic emerges, and it's quite money.

Preserved on film: Tupac Shakur's death wish.
Preserved on film: Tupac Shakur's death wish.
There was a gaggle of young women sitting near me during the screening of Tupac: Resurrection. They frequently voiced their enjoyment of the movie -- in particular, at three specific points. They growled appreciatively at an image of Tupac naked in a bathtub, his crotch festooned with gold chains. They cackled in delight at the clip of über-honky Bob Dole accidentally stage-diving during a campaign. And when Tupac proclaims his love for his mother, Afeni Shakur (one of the film's executive producers), they let rip with a collective "Awwww!" so syrupy, it could have killed every diabetic in range.

In other words, the project is designed to work on you, and it does. Meticulously assembled from seemingly innumerable sources by veteran MTV Vice President Lauren Lazin, it depicts in scintillating detail the life of the unrestrained young artist. Between the incredibly slick production quality and Tupac's explosive, highly marketable charisma, resistance is futile.

"Just last year, I was walking around in this same club, as lonely as a motherfucker," Tupac wryly admits at one point, during Resurrection's avalanche of interview fragments. He literally tells his own tale: Real street kid, real talent, real big, real fast, real dead (he even created prophetic videos of his own demise). Marc Bolan often sang of cars and died young in one. Kurt Cobain barked about self-loathing, then followed through on it. Shane MacGowan feigned theatrical debauchery only to collapse into his own puke-bucket (yet somehow survives). Here we see a big, vibrant picture of a bi-coastal party boy, who caught a break with Oakland's Digital Underground -- "some of the best days of my life" (note the pre-firearm Super Soakers and frat boy-type bullshitting) -- then started playing the gangsta rapper role ("None of these things happened to me; I was speaking for my peers"), then, in his self-aware struggle for manhood, the dawg appears to have rolled in too much dirt ("You're in hell, how can you live like an angel? That's like suicide"). Et voilà: In 1996, the pop martyr was rendered immortal at the dewy age of 25, a good two years ahead of average.

Fortunately, despite some cheesy swooping shots of "heaven" and the knave's pushy proclamation that "Inside of you, I'll be reborn" (Is this Tupac: Resurrection or Alien Resurrection?), one emerges from the project a believer. This is not to say that you must become one of those pallid white people in far-flung lands who worship Tupac and his dubious "Thug Life" philosophy the way that their forebears worshiped American cowboys. You also needn't become a "wigger" -- in fact, please don't. Rather, this project makes it easy for anyone to understand not only the sanctified, semi-crazed star, but the complicated web of elements that created and destroyed him.

Indeed, Tupac Shakur was murdered in Las Vegas seven years ago, but Resurrection is not Biggie and Tupac, Nick Broomfield's exposé; the business concerns with Suge Knight's Death Row Records are left as such here. Rather, this is an unflinching labor of love. There's plenty to disturb, from Tupac's candid puzzlement over whether or not his loudly trumpeted sex offense involved gang-rape and sodomy, to his first shooting, to his prison sentences, to his cleverly marketed "rap war" with Biggie Smalls (which prompted "Hit 'Em Up" and its charming lyrics about the late Biggie's then-wife, Faith Evans). But we also see a dangerously excitable boy, whose boundless wit and energy could have produced much more than this cinematic summary. The film's greatest strength is in allowing us to perceive the violence of Tupac's world as a by-product of irrepressible emotion.

It would be futile to attempt to cover Tupac's sexual issues here, but it's noteworthy that the kid never had a proper father. This particular comment speaks volumes: "Sometimes I just wanna call Prince and say, 'Can we hang? -- 'cause I love women like you love women.'" Yikes!

If Resurrection has a flaw, it's in its show-biz overkill. With all its headlines swirling around and everyone from eternally-unproduced screenwriting coach Syd Field to bogus film critic Peter Travers name-checked into oblivion, there's something troublingly self-congratulatory about the project's adoration of its own media circus. Especially nowadays, Tupac is much more a marketable commodity than he is a man, and one is forced to wonder exactly who is getting paid -- and how much -- for leading this parade in his honor.

That said, it's still quite a show. The list of Resurrection's talking heads would fill this page, and its song credits -- now officially sanctioned by Tupac's mother -- would fill several. There's a heavy reliance on MTV material, from the impossibly adorable Tabitha Soren (née Sornberger, now Lee Lewis) clinging to her rude-boy meal ticket, to geeks Kurt Loder and Chris Connelly making Archie Bunker sound like a soul man by comparison. John Singleton, Arsenio Hall, Snoop Dogg, and Ice T get playful, Dionne Warwick and Dan "Potatoe" Quayle get pissed off, and Connie Chung sustains her bizarre expressionless quality. It's nearly tearjerking when Gene Siskel, praising Tupac's acting in Singleton's Poetic Justice, warmly suggests, "I hope I get to see him again real soon." Who could have known? Have fun together up there, fellows.