Summer 2001: The Top 10 Hits and More

My annual recounting of the cinematic seasons that preceded 30, 20, and 10 years prior continues on the blog today with the summer of 2001! It was a frame dominated by an animated jolly green giant that kicked off a massive franchise for its studio.

As is tradition, I’ll run through the top 10 domestic grossers as well as other notables pics and some flops. If you missed my post covering 1991’s May-August output, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/26/summer-1991-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Let’s get to it!

10. Dr. Dolittle 2

Domestic Gross: $112 million

Eddie Murphy returned as the doc who talks to animals in this sequel that managed to cross the century mark, but failed to approach the $144 million earned by its 1998 predecessor. This would mark the end of Eddie’s involvement in the franchise, but a direct to DVD third helping came in 2006.

9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Domestic Gross: $131 million

Angelina Jolie (fresh off an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted) headlined the video game adaptation that, despite weak reviews, spawned a sequel and an eventual reboot with Alicia Vikander that will soon get its own follow-up.

8. The Fast and the Furious

Domestic Gross: $144 million

We first saw Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and those souped up whips 20 years ago. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or haven’t heard of The Rock), this begat a franchise which is still running strong today. F9 is currently the #1 movie in America in this series that has topped a billion bucks.

7. American Pie 2

Domestic Gross: $145 million

Universal quickly green lighted this sequel to 1999’s smash hit comedy. The gross out gags in part 2 (which resulted in another theatrical effort in 2003 and numerous direct to DVD entries) stands as the largest worldwide earner of the bunch.

6. Planet of the Apes

Domestic Gross: $180 million

Tim Burton’s reimagining of the 1968 classic didn’t result in the new franchise that 20th Century Fox hoped for. Critics had their knives out for Mark Wahlberg’s lead performance and the surprise ending that didn’t pack the wallop of Charlton Heston’s encounter with the Statue of Liberty. The studio would get their successful trilogy a decade later beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which will be covered in 2011’s blog post).

5. Jurassic Park III

Domestic Gross: $181 million

Joe Johnston took over directorial duties from Steven Spielberg is this threequel. Sam Neill was back in this dino-tale that (while profitable) failed to reach the heights of the first two commercially. A reboot 14 years later would get the series back in billion dollar good standing.

4. Pearl Harbor

Domestic Gross: $198 million

Michael Bay’s romantic war epic failed with reviewers but still approached $200 million domestically and $450 million worldwide. Its six Golden Raspberry nominations topped its four Oscar nods.

3. The Mummy Returns

Domestic Gross: $202 million

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz returned for this adventure sequel to the 1999 hit that topped part 1 domestically by nearly $50 million. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would join the fun here and was rewarded with his spin-off (The Scorpion King) the next year. A third Mummy landed with disappointing results in 2008.

2. Rush Hour 2

Domestic Gross: $226 million

It was the best of times for director Brett Ratner and stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan as this action comedy built upon the grosses of the 1998 original. A third would follow six years later.

1. Shrek

Mike Myers as the title character ogre, Eddie Murphy stealing scenes with his voice work as Donkey, and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona proved that Disney wasn’t the only animation game in town. Shrek even competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in this DreamWorks game changer that resulted in three sequels and a stage musical.

And now for some other notables flicks from the summer that was:

The Princess Diaries

Domestic Gross: $108 million

Disney’s live-action fairy tale served as a breakout role for Anne Hathaway and a return to the studio for Julie Andrews for the first time since Mary Poppins. A 2004 sequel followed.

The Others

Domestic Gross: $96 million

With its own Sixth Sense style twist ending, this gothic horror pic with Nicole Kidman earned solid reviews and got genre fans to turn out.

Legally Blonde

Domestic Gross: $96 million

Shrek isn’t the only feature to spawn a Broadway treatment. So did this Reese Witherspoon hit which also resulted in a sequel and a third Blonde that is slated for May 2022.

Cats & Dogs

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Dr. Dolittle wasn’t the only animal game in town. This kiddie pic featuring featuring talking creatures also began a franchise.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Long planned as a project for Stanley Kubrick (who passed away in 1999), Steven Spielberg directed this sci-fi visual feast with Haley Joel Osment. The film elicited strong reactions from critics and crowds (both positively and negatively). It may not have reached $100 million domestic, but it’s still a picture people like to debate about today and that’s more that can be said for most titles on this list.

Swordfish

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Hugh Jackman and John Travolta headlined this action pic which somewhat underperformed expectations. This is mostly known as the film that paid Halle Berry an extra $500,000 to go topless during a few seconds of screen time.

Moulin Rouge!

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Baz Luhrmann’s postmodern musical with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor scored 8 Oscar nominations and has its legions of fans that have endured over the past two decades.

Sexy Beast

Domestic Gross: $6 million

This crime drama is mostly known for its menacing supporting turn from Sir Ben Kingsley, who was rewarded with an Oscar nod.

Ghost World

Domestic Gross: $6 million

Terry Zwigoff’s dark comedy (based on a late 90s comic book) earned raves for its screenplay and for costars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi.

And now for some pictures that did not meet expectations:

America’s Sweethearts

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Yes, it may have approached $100 million, but this rom com starring Julia Roberts and featuring John Cusack, Billy Crystal (who cowrote), and Catherine Zeta-Jones didn’t come near what her previous blockbusters like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Runaway Bride managed.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Domestic Gross: $84 million

Disney’s animated sci-fi adventure was a letdown that didn’t recoup its reported $100 million budget domestically. A hoped for franchise with TV spin-offs and Disneyland ride attraction never rose to the surface.

Scary Movie 2

Domestic Gross: $71 million

This rushed horror spoof follow-up to the 2000 surprise smash couldn’t get close to the $157 million of the original. However, this didn’t stop several sequels from following that achieved greater success.

Evolution

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Director Ivan Reitman and supernatural comedy sure worked well in 1984 with Ghostbusters. Not so much here in this DreamWorks flop with David Duchovny which earned less than half its budget in North America.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Tomb Raider was an example of a video game adaptation that made money. Not so here with this rendering of the popular role playing fantasy series that didn’t score with audiences.

Ghosts of Mars

Domestic Gross: $8 million

It wasn’t a good day at the box office for this science fiction flop from director John Carpenter and Ice Cube.

Pootie Tang

Domestic Gross: $3 million

Moviegoers didn’t turn out for this comedy written and directed by Louis C.K. that originated from a sketch on The Chris Rock Show (who costars). Despite the failed run at the box office, it has since become a cult hit.

And that does it for 2001, folks! Look for my post about summer 2011 in the coming days…

Summer 1991: The Top 10 Hits and More

It is officially summertime 2021 and that brings my annual seasonal three-part series where I take a look back at the top ten pics, flops, and other notable selections from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. That means I’ll begin with 1991 at a time where Arnold Schwarzenegger said hasta la vista to all competitors.

Let’s count down from #10 to numero Ah-nuld along with other entries worthy of discussion (both good and bad).

10. Doc Hollywood

Domestic Gross: $54 million

Michael J. Fox had a midsize hit with this fish out of water comedy about an uppity surgeon stuck in the rural south. It marks the star’s last solid performer that he headlined.

9. Boyz n the Hood

Domestic Gross: $57 million

John Singleton had one of cinema’s most memorable directorial debuts with this coming-of-age drama set in South Central. He would become the youngest filmmaker ever to be nominated at the Oscars and the critically hailed pic kickstarted the careers of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube.

8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians 

Domestic Gross: $60 million

Disney re-released their 1961 classic three decades after its release and picked up a cool $60 million for it. Later in 1991, the studio would begin another renaissance with Beauty and the Beast becoming the first animated film to nab a Best Picture nomination. Five years later, Glenn Close would headline the live-action version and another reboot, Cruella with Emma Stone, is currently in the top five.

7. What About Bob?

Domestic Gross: $63 million

Bill Murray had one of his signature roles as the multi-phobic patient tormenting shrink Richard Dreyfuss on his vacation. Apparently this comedy was a bit dramatic behind the scenes with the two leads having an actual antagonistic relationship.

6. Hot Shots!

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Spoofs were a hot commodity in the early 90s following the success of 1988’s The Naked Gun. Jim Abrahams, one of that film’s writers, created this sendup of Top Gun and many others that starred Charlie Sheen. A sequel would follow two years later.

5. Backdraft

Domestic Gross: $77 million

Ron Howard directed this firefighting drama that heated up the box office with Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, and a creepy Donald Sutherland as a pyromaniac. There was even a sequel released in 2019 with Baldwin and Sutherland that went direct to streaming and that I frankly forgot existed.

4. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear

Domestic Gross: $86 million

The spoofing love continued as Leslie Nielsen reprised his role as doofus detective Frank Drebin in this sequel to the 1988 classic. It couldn’t hold up the original, but it was better than part 3 which followed in 1994. And, needless to say, this was a simpler time for costar O.J. Simpson.

3. City Slickers

Domestic Gross: $124 million

As New Yorkers learning life lessons on a cattle drive, Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, and Bruno Kirby starred in the comedy smash of the summer and costar Jack Palance even ended up with a Best Supporting Actor victory. A less regarded follow-up would come in 1994.

2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Domestic Gross: $165 million

While his accent was spotty at best, Kevin Costner parlayed his Oscar success from the previous year’s Dances with Wolves into this blockbuster about the robbing from the rich and giving to the poor hero. The highlight was Alan Rickman’s sublime work as the Sheriff of Nottingham while critics mostly turned up their noses.

1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Domestic Gross: $204 million

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s android went from being the bad guy in the 1984 original to the good robot in James Cameron’s sequel that gave us eye popping and revolutionary special effects and a dynamite Linda Hamilton returning as a buffed up Sarah Connor. There’s been four more entries in the franchise and none have matched the potency of this one.

Now let’s turn the focus to some other notable releases:

Thelma & Louise

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both scored lead actress Academy nods for Ridley Scott’s now iconic tale of feminism and revenge with an unforgettable ending. This also marked audiences falling in love with a then unknown actor by the name of Brad Pitt.

Point Break

Domestic Gross: $43 million

Patrick Swayze starred in the previous summer’s high earner with Ghost. This surfing action pic from director Kathryn Bigelow paired the actor with Keanu Reeves and has amassed a deserved cult following. An unnecessary remake wiped out in 2015.

Dead Again

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Kenneth Branagh’s sophomore effort after the acclaim of his Shakespearian Henry V was this Hitchcock homage costarring his then wife Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, and Robin Williams. As tributes to the Master of Suspense go, this is one of the best.

Soapdish

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Robert Downey, Jr., and Whoopi Goldberg are part of the ensemble in this comedy set in the world of the afternoon melodramas that populate the airwaves. Not a big hit at the time, its reception has since grown.

Jungle Fever

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Spike Lee’s tale of an interracial couple played by Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra received critical kudos. The two most memorable performances come from Samuel L. Jackson as a crack addict and Halle Berry (in her feature debut) as his girlfriend.

Madonna: Truth or Dare

Domestic Gross: $15 million

As she often is, Madonna was ahead of the cultural curve with this documentary set during her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. This was reality programming before it exploded.

Barton Fink

Domestic Gross: $6 million

The Coen Brothers pitch black comedy was the darling of the Cannes Film Festival, winning Picture, Director, and Actor for John Turturro. It would land three Academy nominations including Michael Lerner in Supporting Actor.

Now it’s time for the pictures that either didn’t land with audiences or critics (or both):

The Rocketeer

Domestic Gross: $46 million

Disney was hoping for a new franchise with this comic book based property. Yet the period adventure underwhelmed at the box office. This was a different era for the genre before the MCU changed everything. Director Joe Johnston, coincidentally, would go on to make Captain America: The First Avenger 20 years later.

Dying Young

Domestic Gross: $33 million

This seems hard to believe now, but Premiere magazine predicted this romance would be the largest grossing feature of the summer. Not so much. However, Julia Roberts was just coming off her smash breakthrough Pretty Woman. This didn’t land with audiences in the same way.

Only the Lonely

Domestic Gross: $25 million

Chris Columbus was basking in the box office bonanza that was Home Alone. This rom com with John Candy and Ally Sheedy that followed six months later didn’t cause many filmgoers to leave their homes.

Mobsters

Domestic Gross: $20 million

1990 was gave us lots of mobster fare such as GoodFellas, The Godfather Part III, and Miller’s Crossing. Crowds and critics didn’t take to the Christian Slater and Patrick Dempsey versions of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, respectively.

Hudson Hawk

Domestic Gross: $17 million

Bruce Willis’s vanity project is considered one of the gargantuan flops in history. Grossing only about a fourth of its $65 million budget, it was awarded the Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture of the year.

V.I. Warshawski

Domestic Gross: $11 million

Based on a series of successful novels, audiences didn’t take to Kathleen Turner in the title role for this detective action comedy. It made less than half its budget.

Delirious

Domestic Gross: $5 million

Also set in the world of soap operas, this marked another dud for John Candy in the same season.

Another You

Domestic Gross: $2 million

Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are a classic combo with well-regarded comedies like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. Even See No Evil, Hear No Evil in 1989, despite critical scorn, performed well. That’s not the case with their last collaboration (which reviewers also drubbed).

And that concludes my look back at summer 1991. Next up is the sweltering season of 2001!

Fist Fight Movie Review

Fist Fight is not worth it. It’s not worth the involvement of a decent cast that’s provided laughs in other projects. It’s not even worthy of that bloopers reel that you just know is coming once its 91 minutes thankfully concludes. Even they’re not very funny.

This is a loose remake of 1987 cult comedy Three O’Clock High, a fun little exercise that’s earned its status as an under appreciated flick. The common thread is the long buildup to an eventual brawl in a high school. However, this time it’s the teachers and not the students. In one corner, we have wimpy English teacher Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day). In the other, we have intimidating history instructor Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube).

These two educators are in the last day of school when a dispute leads Cube to challenge Day to its title at 3pm once the bell rings. The circumstances leading to it are not particularly relevant, though they certainly call into question why Cube’s character should be anywhere near a classroom. That’s common here. Most of the characters from faculty to the kids are dumb and constantly doing dumb things. Jillian Bell, who stole scenes in 22 Jump Street, is that teacher we’ve all had who does meth and wants to hook up with the seniors. This is one example of several where the script goes for extreme vulgarity and non-PC humor. Nothing wrong with that, but it rarely lands with its crass chuckles attempts.

Cube scowls his way through. Day plays up the always nerve-wracked weakling. Somewhere in here is an attempted message about bravery and not backing down to powers that be. If only some of the talent here could have been brave enough to punch up this lackadaisical screenplay.

*1/2 (out of four)

RIP Bill Paxton

Sadly, this morning I write a post I didn’t expect to with the news that Bill Paxton has passed away at age 61. For even casual movie fans, Paxton was a very familiar face that starred and co-starred in blockbusters such as Aliens, True Lies, Twister, and Titanic.

Upon hearing the news of his death, I began to realize just how present he’s been in my movie watching existence over the last three decades plus. I first knew of him as Chet, the bullying older brother in Weird Science. If that is a guilty pleasure pic, his performance is one of the best pleasures in it. It’s a terrific comedic performance.

Just one year later, his role in Aliens stuck out in that fantastic sequel with one-liners like “Game Over, Man!” That same year, he starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire cult classic Near Dark.

All told, Mr. Paxton has about a dozen DVDs and Blu-Rays sitting on my shelf. Like I said, he was truly a part of many of our collective filmgoing experiences from the 1980s on. He was alongside Tom Cruise just three years ago in the solid Edge of Tomorrow and was a rival tabloid cameraman to Jake Gyllenhaal in my favorite picture of 2014, Nightcrawler.

His TV credits include headlining HBO’s “Big Love” and just a few weeks ago, his CBS crime drama “Training Day” (based on the 2001 Denzel Washington film) premiered. His final movie will be The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It opens in April.

Other notable onscreen efforts range from Predator 2 to Tombstone to A Simple Plan and U571. Today I wish to highlight a trio of lesser known titles worth seeking out:

Two are from 1992. Trespass finds him and William Sadler as firefighters who find a treasure map that pits them against drug dealers Ice Cube and Ice-T. It’s great gritty fun. One False Move is an intense crime thriller from director Carl Franklin and written by Billy Bob Thornton. Gene Siskel named it as his favorite movie of that year and it is impressive.

Paxton turned to directing himself in 2001 with Frailty, an underrated and effective thriller where the actor plays a religiously fanatical father. I just watched it again recently and it made me wish Paxton had directed more.

What Bill Paxton did leave us with is his own treasure trove of performances to enjoy. He will be missed.

Fist Fight Box Office Prediction

Ice Cube and Charlie Day headline the comedy Fist Fight, which hits theaters over Presidents Day weekend. A loose remake of the 1987 cult pic Three O’Clock High, costars include Tracy Morgan (in his first film after his auto accident), Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert, and Kumail Nanjiani.

Mr. Cube has had his share of laugh inducing hits and franchises over the years with Barbershop, 21/22 Jump Street, and Ride Along. Day is best known for TV’s “It Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the Horrible Bosses flicks.

Fight pits Cube as a teacher challenging his fellow educator to a schoolyard brawl. With its simple concept, known stars in the genre, and really zero competition when it comes to comedies (save for Lego Batman I suppose), I’ll predict this manages a mid 20s four day debut. It could even fight for the highest opening among the two others newbies (The Great Wall, A Cure for Wellness) over the holiday weekend.

Fist Fight opening weekend prediction: $25.1 million

For my The Great Wall prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/02/09/the-great-wall-box-office-prediction/

For my A Cure for Wellness prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/02/09/a-cure-for-wellness-box-office-prediction/

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Box Office Prediction

Lest ye forget, the Fast and Furious series isn’t the only franchise that Vin Diesel has been a part of and I’m not talking about Riddick or Guardians of the Galaxy. Next weekend, Mr. Diesel returns in the title role of xXx: Return of Xander Cage. 

In 2002, the star (hot off the first Fast feature) headlined summer action blockbuster xXx, which opened to $44 million with an eventual $142M domestic haul. Yet, just like the first Furious sequel, he decided to sit out the follow-up, xXx: State of the Union which featured Ice Cube instead. That one didn’t fare so well with just a $12 million debut and $26M overall gross.

Cage finds D.J. Caruso taking over the directorial duties with a supporting cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Donnie Yen, Toni Collette, Ruby Rose, Deepika Padukone, Nina Dobrev, and Tony Jaa. The question is: will moviegoers return to the super spy action series nearly 15 years after the original?

The answer: to an extent. Diesel has obviously gotten max exposure in recent years with the well-received Furious extravaganzas. There is the cautionary tale of 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter, which he hoped would turn into a franchise but sputtered with just $27 million domestically. xXx may earn that and then some in its first weekend of release. I’ve got it pegged in the mid to high 20s and even though that’s not reaching what the first Cage opus made a decade and a half ago, it’s OK.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage opening weekend prediction: $25.4 million

For my Split prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/10/split-box-office-prediction/

For my The Founder prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/11/the-founder-box-office-prediction/

For my 20th Century Women prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/12/20th-century-women-box-office-prediction/

For my The Resurrection of Gavin Stone prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/01/12/the-resurrection-of-gavin-stone-box-office-prediction/

Barbershop: The Next Cut Box Office Prediction

It was a good day for Ice Cube in 2002 when Barbershop debuted to $20.6 million with an eventual $75M domestic gross. It was another good day when its sequel Barbershop 2: Back in Business opened with $24.2 million and a $65M overall haul.

Twelve years later, Barbershop: The Next Cut marks the third entry in the franchise with Mr. Cube returning alongside series regulars Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, and Sean Patrick Thomas. Regina Hall, Nicki Minaj, J.B. Smoove, Tyga, and Common also join the cutting crew.

The Next Cut continues the all of a sudden hot 2016 trend of comedy sequels to pictures released early in the 21st century. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has posted decent numbers. Zoolander – No. 2? Not so much.

My feeling is that fans of this franchise will welcome its return, even if it’s been 12 years (not counting its 2005 spin-off Beauty Shop). I believe the possibility of this over performing is significantly greater than underperforming and have it opening just below what 2004’s sequel managed.

Barbershop: The Next Cut opening weekend prediction: $23.1 million

For my The Jungle Book prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/04/06/the-jungle-book-box-office-prediction/

For my Criminal prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/04/06/criminal-box-office-prediction/

Ride Along 2 Box Office Prediction

Kevin Hart and Ice Cube are back together again in Ride Along 2, exactly two years after the original became a breakout hit. Reuniting with director Tim Story, the action comedy sequel also features Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, and Benjamin Bratt.

Ride Along kick started Hart’s burgeoning movie career with a three day debut of $41.5 million over the 2014 MLK Day weekend and $48.6 million over the long weekend on its way to a $134.9M domestic haul. Both stars have kept busy over the last two years, with Cube getting a special kind of exposure in last summer’s monster hit Straight Outta Compton. 

This follow-up should be in a position to possibly even improve on the original’s numbers. It helps that only a couple years have passed and the first Ride is still fresh in moviegoers minds.

I’ll project Ride Along 2 does just manage to top what came before it and the pic should be the one to finally knock Star Wars from its perch atop the charts.

Ride Along 2 opening weekend prediction: $45.5 million

For my 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/01/07/13-hours-the-secret-soldiers-of-benghazi-box-office-prediction/

For my Norm of the North prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/01/07/norm-of-the-north-box-office-prediction/

Straight Outta Compton Movie Review

Chronicling approximately a decade of time following the three most notable members of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A. and named after their landmark debut album, Straight Outta Compton is a musical biopic that often approaches the large proportions these artists deserve. This is not “Behind the Music” nor the chintzy examples of this genre that we sometimes find on VH-1 or Lifetime. F. Gary Gray’s movie is a timely tale about timeless music that was thought to be a total fad when Dr. Dre first spun his iconic beats for fellow group members Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren.

It begins in 1986 with the group’s formation in the drug infested Los Angeles suburb of Compton. Talented DJ Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) recruits local drug dealer Eric “Eazy E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) to help fund the group. O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube (played by Cube’s real life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is the fiery rapper and lyricist along their side. MC Ren and DJ Yella… well, they’re also in N.W.A. I don’t say this to minimize their contributions. The film just really doesn’t spend any time exploring them. This is understandable because Compton has a lot on its plate and packs a lot in during its two and a half hour run time.

The period of time covered here does explore two managers who both helped make the group’s and Dre’s solo masterworks occur and employed nefarious tactics that wreaked havoc. For N.W.A., it’s Jerry Heller (played with gusto by Paul Giamatti) and later on it’s notorious Death Row cofounder Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). For those familiar with the story, we get the expected high and lowlights beyond the corporate intrigue – the young men adjusting to fame, Cube’s controversial exit, Eazy’s eventual health issues, and the group’s dealings with police brutality both before and after they achieved fame. Of course, some of those instances lead to their most notable tracks.

What helps Compton achieve more than most of its contemporaries is likely due to director F. Gary Gray, who early in his career directed videos for Cube and Dre and helmed 1995’s weed classic Friday, which starred and was cowritten by Cube. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Young are also producers and this all leads to an air of authenticity that permeates the production. It elevates this material to superior heights, even if we’ve seen these tales (whether based in truth or not) before.

Mitchell stands out as Eazy and he is given the most emotional story arch to work with. Jackson, as you’d expect, has probably had plenty of practice mimicking his old man and does a commendable job and Hawkins is a suitable Dre. And of course, there’s the music. A sound that was dangerous to so many ears and still is. It was also brilliant and Dre’s incredible contributions to the sound of the last 30 years is given its proper due.

Straight Outta Compton sometimes does feel like its trying to pack in so much recent history that it feels fragmented. The N.W.A. tale and Death Row saga could easily be separate pics (brief glimpses of Snoop and 2Pac make you wish for that 2 1/2 hours of devotion). For what we’ve been presented, though, Compton is on the higher (not a Chronic reference) end of these tales with beats by Dre that keep its propulsive rhythm humming.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Straight Outta Compton

Last weekend the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton became a cultural phenomenon, grossing an astonishing $60 million out of the gate. This rocketed past even the most lofty expectations. The film’s A Cinemascore grade prove audiences were very pleased. Its 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating show critics are behind it too.

This brings up a question that I wouldn’t have thought to ask even a week ago: could Straight Outta Compton get some Oscar love? The short answer: it’s possible but unlikely. Compton will need the help of at least two or three hotly anticipated autumn releases not to meet their awards potential. That often happens, but one other summer release (and a much different one) is currently the front runner for this season’s potential Picture nominees: Pixar’s Inside Out.

Still – Oscar voters could certainly show a cool factor and express themselves by bringing Compton into the mix. Its only real shot is probably a stand alone Best Picture nod. Director F. Gary Gray and the actors shouldn’t be a factor. For now, this blogger will say it’s a long shot, but we shall see how the next four and a half months plays out.