A generation after N.W.A. shouted "Fuck the police!" neighborhoods across America -- in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, Baltimore -- still ache to hear it. Ice Cube's blast at cops who "think they have the authority to kill a minority" echoes. Director F. Gary Gray edits the LAPD into Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic, like they're Jason in a Friday the 13th movie, always lurking: Their cars roll by in the background, their sirens wail, their officers tackle the group again and again just for being in the "wrong" place, i.e., in front of their recording studio, or on the sidewalk outside a friend's house.
But halfway through, the filmmakers decide that what audiences really want is label contract disputes. The second chunk is a grind where Cube, then Dre, peel away from Jerry Heller's (Paul Giamatti) Ruthless Records, team up with new business partners, and then leave them, too. In a 150-minute film, that's a lot of paperwork.
Both Dre and Cube produce, and seem to have edited the script with a red pen. The surviving rappers have smudged everything that might make them look like creeps or chumps, beveling so many rough edges that their screen selves become blank slates. It's left to Eazy-E, the deceased member who can't sue, to give their story life.
As Eazy-E, newcomer Jason Mitchell swaggers and threatens, cowers and makes destructive choices, imbuing the film with his deluded, squeaky-voiced soul. By contrast, when Cube (Ice Cube's oldest son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., who is excellent) smashes up a record exec's (Tate Ellington) office for skimping on his royalties, the scene frames him as a 'hood hero triumphing over The Man.