Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Cast: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Naturi Naughton
Running Time: 2 hours
Plot: Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (Woolard) – who, in just a few short years, shot from the tough streets of Brooklyn to the heights of hip-hop legend.
Who’s It For? This is not a re-release or remake of the 1946 film Notorious, so Alfred Hitchcock fans shouldn’t get too excited. This is a standard bio-pic, set in the hip hop world.
Expectations: I am a fringe R&B fan, just knowing the hits of 50-Cent, Kanye West, and Eminem. I thought this was a good of way as any to get immersed into the life of Biggie Smalls.
Jamal Woolard as Christopher ‘Biggie’ Wallace: He’s got the ‘big’ part down. Woolard is a large man that fills up the screen, figuratively, literally … take your pick. He has the voice down, and his aww sucks mannerisms give a certain amount of lovable warmth to this criminal turned R&B legend. One complaint … I wanted more of the double lives he lived in high school.
Derek Luke as Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs: This is the true weakness of the film. Luke doesn’t get close to his portrayal of D. Piddy. There is no power to this performance. It’s like a strong breeze could knock out all his confidence. Maybe that’s the case with the real Puffy, but Combs supposedly oversaw his portrayal. The odd, nervous dancing while Sean is thinking is the worst.
Anglea Bassett as Voletta Wallace: For a long time it seems Bassett will be reduced to “big name actor in throw away role” but finally, during the chemotherapy, she’s given some time with Woolard and the two work well together.
Naturi Naughton as Lil Kim: Smoking. The real life Lil Kim is not happy about the way she is showcased but good lord, Naughton is a sex pot. When Faith comes around, I just don’t care, I just want more Lil.
Antonique Smith as Faith Evans: Before this film, the name Faith Evans meant nothing to me. After this film I had no reason to want to know more. Smith doesn’t breath any life into this supposed passionate love.
Christopher Jordan Wallace as the young Biggie: Check out the name. Look familiar? It’s Faith and Biggie’s real life son. Kind of weird. Seems like something that will eventually lead to some therapy. “Hey kid, want to play your dead dad?” Getting beyond that, I wanted more of the younger Biggie. This part of his life was over too quickly in the film.
Talking: Talking … Rapping … it’s all the same right? Well, this is where the film crushed me. From the young Wallace to the old, I never understood where the talent came from. Is he just a natural that doesn’t have to work at it? Did all that writing in jail become his hit songs? You don’t learn from this film. It’s like they forgot to showcase where Biggie’s talent comes from, and isn’t that half the battle with a musical bio-pic?
Sights: Brooklyn looks good and bad (on purpose). There is plenty of bling to go around especially once the record deals start coming in. Since the style is so foreign to me, it would have been great seeing Biggie and friends go shopping.
Sounds: I needed more music, which should never be the case for a film about a music legend. I hear die-hard fans will be happy about some rare B-sides that make it onto the soundtrack. “Microphone Murderer,” and “Guaranteed Raw” have a place and “Brooklyn Go Hard” with help from Kanye West and Jay-z all make the cut.
Look, I don’t know how real this story is, but I do know how it feels. Flat. If you are going to make a fictional tale about a hip hop legend you would include … a father that wasn’t there, an overly loving mother, getting a girl pregnant early, a best friend who takes the heat off you, turning around an angry crowd, and lots of sex. Notorious feels a little too cut and paste. It also fails at properly introducing the East Coast/West Coast thing. 2-Pac, Suge Knight, Diddy and Biggie all need a 8-episode HBO special to shed some light on the hip hop battle. Biggie lived a HUGE life in only 24 years, but this film has two hours and never sells me. Isn’t selling what Sean “Puffy” Combs is supposed to be an expert at?
Final Score: 5/10