It’s easy to commiserate with the difficulties John Ridley – Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave – faced getting his passion project, a biopic of Jimi Hendrix, off the ground. Unable to acquire the legal rights to Hendrix’s recordings or songs (a common problem – notice that the only Hendrix song you ever hear in the movies is his cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”?), he adapted his adaptation towards Hendrix’s pre-fame (and, hence, blues-cover heavy) years.
But limitations breed creativity, after all, and for a while it seems like Ridley’s innovative approach to the biopic – anti-dramatic and erratic – is going to pay artistic dividends. The aggressively non-linear editing style seems to align itself both with Hendrix’s distinctive personality (Per the dialogue: “I don’t have experience putting things in … some kind of order.”) and Outkast’s André Benjamin’s unique, lackadaisical performance.
But the film lacks any charge, momentum or real insight, and its initial promise fades away. Without Hendrix’s music, without a substantial character arc and with a jarring bout of historically-dubious violence, Jimi: All is By My Side more closely resembles Keith Richards’ (Ashley Charles’) dismissive comment early in the film: “A bloody hodgepodge full of nothing.” Ultimately a disappointment.