The Godfather of Soul gets a rollicking but milquetoast biopic with Get on Up, showcasing a dynamite Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. The movie is entertaining, and it does flirt with the more controversial aspects of Brown’s life, but it plays it a little too safe. A true telling of James Brown’s often insane life would command an R-rating and be a real powder keg of a movie. Director Tate Taylor (The Help) doesn’t avoid the domestic violence, drugs and brushes with the law that were mainstays in Brown’s life, but he does treat those aspects as a bit of a side note. The film’s focus stays primarily on Brown’s tough upbringing and his music. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does result in what feels like a missed opportunity for greatness. The movie, which is not told chronologically, starts promisingly as we see the events leading up to the infamous police chase that landed Brown in jail for three years. Boseman is nothing short of amazing in these scenes as the somewhat crazy older Brown, brandishing a shotgun and seeking out the person who dared to use his bathroom to take a dump. The film then commences to bounce around in time, showing Brown as a young child in Augusta, Georgia, all the way up to his latter years as a performer. This narrative technique is certainly fun, giving the movie a sense of “anything can happen” and making it feel far from routine. Boseman even breaks the fourth wall to chat with the audience, something that’s a bit jarring at first but eventually works. If you go to this movie to see somebody kick some major ass with the James Brown dance moves, Get on Up definitely delivers. If you’re looking for a biopic that captures his amazingly crazy life, you’ll just have to keep waiting. I’m no James Brown expert, but what I do know tells me this movie doesn’t even scratch the surface.

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