Straight Outta L.A. -- Film Review

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NEW YORK -- It was a match made in Heav -- well, let's just say an ideal match -- when the nascent gangsta rap scene discovered NFL bad boys the Los Angeles Raiders in the early 1980s. Pirate imagery, black hats, and rule-breaking athletes captured the imagination of kids on Compton's violent streets, who wore Raiders gear on MTV and turned the team into a world-famous brand.

Rapper/actor/filmmaker Ice Cube was out front in that movement with his group N.W.A., and "Straight Outta L.A." proves to be a more inspired blend of sports journalism and autobiographical content than other outings in ESPN's "30 for 30" doc series -- one in which the director's personal involvement proves integral to the subject. The good-looking, quick-paced result will be a crowd-pleaser on the network, and smart marketing could wring some DVD dollars out of the hip-hop community as well.

Beginning with his own exposure to the Raiders when the team was still based in Oakland, the filmmaker uses a range of interviews and vintage clips to suggest they were perfectly suited to the multi-ethnic, economically mixed fan base in their second home; alternating between football and rap history (sometimes using rough-hewn black-and-white animation to flesh out the narrative), he suggests that each side of that equation brought something the other needed at a critical developmental moment.

At under an hour, the film manages to paint a vivid picture of 1980s L.A. and to chart the chronology in which the Raiders lost the city's enthusiasm and then moved away. But Ice Cube barely comments on some issues that beg him to take a stand, like team owner Al Davis's petulant insistence on having the city build him a new luxury stadium (he might as well come out and say, as a later rapper famously did, "I gotta get paid") or the skybox trend's ramifications for the working-class fans who supported the Raiders in their heyday.

But what it does, "Straight Outta L.A." does well -- squeezing Q&As with former players like Marcus Allen and Howie Long alongside the perspectives of rappers like Snoop Dogg and even a film-school professor or two. Viewers who know only the sports or the music side of the story will walk away understanding how the two mesh.

And yes, this rap-savvy doc includes a glimpse of the Raiders' atrocious venture into the music world. With the era's most notorious rappers already bolstering their image, why did these athletes feel the need to take the mic themselves?

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (ESPN Films)
Production company: ESPN Film, Hunting Lane Films and Cube Vision
Director: Ice Cube
Screenwriter: Jon Weinbach
Executive producers: Jamie Patricof, Matt Alvarez, Keith Clinkscales, John Dahl, Joan Lynch, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons, John Skipper, John Walsh
Producers: Jon Weinbach, Arunima Dhar
Director of photography: Alex Van Wagner
Editor: Dan Marks
No MPAA rating, 51 minutes
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