Famous Flames: Chadwick Boseman (James Brown) and Nelsan Ellis (Bobby Byrd) in Get on Up
  • Universal Pictures
  • THE POWER OF THE FUNK Chadwick Boseman (James Brown) and Nelsan Ellis (Bobby Byrd) in Get on Up.
The title promises a biopic about a sex machine—and that's certainly part of it—but Get on Up could just as easily have been called The Payback, because it's really about how James Brown (42's Chadwick Boseman) "paid the cost to be the boss." And made everybody else pay, too.

Wives and band members, like Craig Robinson's outspoken Maceo Parker, came and went, but right-hand man Bobby Byrd (True Blood's Nelsan Ellis in a finely shaded performance) had thicker skin than the rest. Despite formidable ladies in the cast, like Jill Scott (his wife), Viola Davis (his mother), and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (his caretaker), director Tate Taylor (The Help) and co-writer Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow) throw their lot in with Byrd—who helped Brown maximize his considerable potential, only to see just how much damage an unchecked ego could do. (Brown's talent agent, Ben Bart, played by Dan Aykroyd, also stuck it out longer than most.)

So, it's hardly a nonstop party, but Boseman is a delight: talking in that famously raspy manner, doing the splits (several times!), rocking the low-cut jumpsuits, and breaking the fourth wall to share asides with the audience. The puzzle-piece structure can be whiplash-inducing, and the opening sequence is awkward at best, but the power of the funk always shines through—thank the stars that producer Mick Jagger was able to clear all the music rights.

Get on Up is playing all around town—here are movie times.