Straight Outta Compton ain't exactly a documentary

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      Starring O'Shea Jackson Jr. Rated 18A. Now playing

      Alternately exhilarating, funny, and eye-rollingly corny, Straight Outta Compton tells the legend (it’s not exactly a documentary) of N.W.A., using the time-tested formula of the musical biography to explain how five guys from L.A. invented West Coast gangsta rap.

      Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and MC Ren are friends from Compton who want to make great tunes and get paid for them. Their chemistry produces dope tracks, but their naivety gets them into difficulties

      It’s a story that might have been applied to any cherished American singer or group, being told in a linear, compressed, exposition-heavy manner, with plenty of set dressing to remind us that it is a period piece. I felt a little nonplussed to remember that I actually bought Straight Outta Compton in 1988. On cassette.

      Director F. Gary Gray, given a sprawling run time and direct access to the living principals as coproducers, delivers an intermittently great American biopic that strives to reproduce the shocking effect of N.W.A.'s music. 

      Less thrilling but also necessary are more montages-of-awesome that explore Cube’s multimedia talents (Gray also directed Friday, which is a nice connection) and Dre’s mentorship of Eminem, Snoop, and 50 Cent.

      Dre, Cube and Eazy are also depicted (by Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Jason Mitchell) as callow but brave and essentially good people. It might be a bit of lily-gilding but hard to resent given the sonic and cultural accomplishments depicted here.

      Not everyone would agree but I thought it was kind of amazing, a nearly three-hour epic of the rise and fall and rise of these guys who wound up being dynastic figures in an entire genre of music.