Dir: Ice Cube. US. 2010. 51mins
Straight Outta L.A., the directorial debut of the hip hop star Ice Cube, is an ode to the Los Angeles Raiders, the American football team whose buccaneer swagger inspired gangsters and rappers. Informative and competently made, it won’t shake the film world as its subjects shook the contact sports of football and hip hop.
Ice Cube’s army of fans and die-hard Raider supporters could fuel sales on DVD.
The 51-minute documentary made for the ESPN sports network brings personality and drama (and a name with crossover marketability) to the network’s film ambitions. It will have a television market wherever football has a public. Ice Cube’s army of fans and die-hard Raider supporters could fuel sales on DVD, although it’s unlikely that the National Football League, attacked throughout, will help in promotion.
Ice Cube’s debut plays with the title of the rap hit that made him a notorious star, Staight Outta Compton. The group was N.W.A. (Niggaz wit Attitudes) formed in 1986, which wore the Raider’s silver and black colors as they glorified gang culture (Gangsta Gangsta) and slammed law enforcement (Fuck Tha Police). As the Raiders battered opponents on the field, bodies piled up on the L.A. Streets, and N.W.A. soared on the charts. This synergy reminds us that concept of athletes as role models has its dark side.
The doc follows Ice Cube’s understated first-person narrative through archival footage of football, the evolution of L.A. hip hop into gangsta rap, and bloody street violence – all in the black and gray palette that defined the Raiders and the period. Close-up interviews with rappers (Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre) and football greats (Marcus Allen, Howie Long) are also part of the smoothly edited mix that fits the historical sports doc mold.
One character sets it apart - Al Davis, 81, the team’s combative owner and former coach, who sued the NFL to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982. Davis revisits that era with a scratchy Brooklyn accent as he tells of opposing the league and exploiting outrage on and off the field.
The tone back then was set with the team logo Davis designed, a pirate with a patch covering one eye. Corpse-like, with scarred transparent skin, Davis still spits out venomous wit. Cutaway shots to Ice Cube interviewing him raise questions about who the original gangster of the pair might be. More of Davis would have given the doc a rougher edge.
Straight Outta L.A. offers little new information, although Jon Weinbach’s script hammers at the link between gangsta rap and Raiders football. Besides drawing underserved African-American and Latino fans to the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Raiders as emblems for gangsters and rappers helped build the NFL’s retail sales into a multi-billion dollar business. For the NFL, gang culture was extremely profitable, Ice Cube tells us.
There’s nostalgia in Straight Outta L.A. for those simpler violent years. The Raiders and the petulant Davis would abandon Los Angeles and its working class fans, and return to Oakland in 1995. True to form, Davis defends his decision to desert L.A. unapologetically, while Ice Cube skirts re-examination of his much-criticised abandonment of N.W.A. in 1990 for a career as a solo rapper and film actor.
Production companies: ESPN Films, CubeVision, Hunting Lane Films
US Distributor: ESPN Films
International Sales: ESPN Films, www.espnfilms.com
Producers: Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez, Jamie Patricof, Jon Weinbach, Arunima Dhar
Executive Producers: Keith Clinkscales, John Dahl, Joan Lynch, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons, John Skipper, John Walsh
Screenplay: Jon Weinbach
Cinematography: Alex Van Wagner
Editor: Dan Marks