Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins, Brandon Smith, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Tariq Trotter, Aloe Blacc
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, based on a story by Steven Baigelman, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by: Tate Taylor
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations
Running Time: 138
Date: 08/01/2014

Get on Up (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Man's World

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The biopic about James Brown was only inevitable, I suppose, though it's a good thing that Chadwick Boseman landed the role of the Godfather of Soul in Get on Up. He's magnificent, and effortlessly conveys an awesome performance energy throughout the movie. (Boseman also played Jackie Robinson in last year's underrated 42.) Like nearly any major Hollywood biopic it's this centerpiece performance that drives the movie.

Director Tate Taylor, the white man behind the very bland, but very popular The Help, tries his very best to sneak around some of the biopic cliches. He jumps around in time, allows memories and past events to bleed into the present, and random moments to seep over the top of one another. He somehow manages to avoid that feeling of skimming over the surface of a long story.

Yet, when one stops to consider all the other people in James Brown's life, it all comes crashing down. Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are both here; the ads are careful to mention that Spencer is an Oscar winner and Davis is a nominee. But their roles, one as Brown's mama, and another as the woman who actually raised him, are paper-thin and disappear for huge chunks of time. The same goes for Dan Aykroyd, who, it should be noted, appeared with the real James Brown in The Blues Brothers (1980), the funny Craig Robinson, and the charismatic Nelsan Ellis as James's best pal Bobby Byrd.

The movie does a good job convincing us of Brown's genius, but it does little to put anything at stake. Brown never really seems in danger of losing anything. He's so selfish and takes such good care of himself, that we're never really worried about him. And, despite so much great music and so many great performances, the movie really does skim over the surface of this complex career that lasted four decades without a break.

Get on Up makes you wish for something briefer, maybe something solely focusing on the legendary Live at the Apollo night. When Eddie Murphy did two and a half minutes on James Brown on "Saturday Night Live" and in his standup routine, we got the whole picture. In two hours and twenty minutes, Get on Up gets only part of it.

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