ONE NIGHT IN VEGAS

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(One Night in Vegas premieres on ESPN Tuesday September 7, 2010, at 8pm. Visit the film’s page at the 30 For 30 website for more screening dates and times.)

In One Night in Vegas, Reggie Rock Bythewood uses the fateful night of September 7, 1996, to link the dynamic, commanding personalities of boxer Mike Tyson and rapper/actor Tupac Shakur, two pop cultural icons and very good friends who were as worshiped by fans as they were hated by detractors. On that night, after Tyson defeated Bruce Seldon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to win the WBA belt, Shakur was gunned down in traffic, only to die six days later. In recounting this tragedy while simultaneously trying to deliver character portraits of these fascinatingly complicated men, it feels like Bythewood has tried to cram too much style and content into an hour-long film. Though it will take up more of your time, I recommend watching the following films for a deeper, fuller appreciation of Tyson and Shakur: Biggie and Tupac, Tyson, and Tupac: Resurrection.

Right off the bat, Bythewood makes a strange stylistic choice by introducing the revelation of Tupac’s premature murder at the age of 25 in the form of… a panel cartoon? I’m not sure what he was going for here, but all I could keep thinking was that this decision felt oddly inappropriate. Bythewood only uses this panel cartoon effect as bookends to his film, which only adds to the distraction. And while Bythewood has assembled an impressive amount of notable interviewees—including Reverend Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, Michael Eric Dyson, and Tyson himself—that too feels like an overloaded decision. In one head-scratching moment, the film cuts from journalist Joan Morgan reading lyrics from one of Shakur’s most sensitive tracks about loving women, directly into Mickey Rourke telling a story of how he and Tyson almost killed a guy in Monaco one night while partying in a nightclub. While that certainly captures the almost schizophrenic nature of these two men, in execution it feels jarring and strange.

I should probably acknowledge here that, to my eyes, the films in ESPN’s 30 For 30 series have lately begun to feel more like standard television docs and less like exceptional sports films. Which is fine, and perhaps even unfair on my part, but that’s how it goes. If you know nothing about Mike Tyson and Tupac Shakur, One Night in Vegas is a serviceable film. It just doesn’t do justice to these unwieldy and hugely influential forces of nature.

— Michael Tully

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