out of Five
Running time: 122
A watchable, if admittedly one-sided, biopic with a handful of strong performances, though it rarely scratches the surface of its subject and wears out its welcome long before the end.
What's it all about?
Directed by George Tillman Jr and tellingly produced by both Sean "Puffy" Combs and Biggie's own mother, Voletta Wallace, Notorious charts the remarkable rise of hip hop legend Christopher Wallace (Jamal Woolard), aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G., before his untimely death at the age of 24 in a drive-by shooting. Framed by the night of Biggie's death, the film traces his childhood as a straight-A student (Biggie's son Christopher Wallace plays the young Biggie, Angela Bassett plays his mother) and his early life as a drug dealer, jailbird and teenage father, before his freestyle rap tape brings him to the attention of producer Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke).
However, fame and fortune brings its own share of problems, including an affair with feisty Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Lil' Kim (Naturi Naughton), marriage to fellow hip hop star Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) and a friendship-turned-rivalry with charismatic West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie).
Jamal Woolard is fine as Biggie, subtly illustrating the differences between Biggie's larger-than-life rap persona and Wallace's own personal life. There's also strong support from the always-likeable Derek Luke (shrewd casting on Puffy's part), Antonique Smith and a scene-stealing, frequently funny Naturi Naughton, while an under-used Angela Bassett adds a touch of class as Voletta.
Understandably, given the producers, Notorious is more hagiography than biography, though it does include a shot of Biggie selling crack to a pregnant woman, even if that pregnant woman then turns up alive and well, off the drugs and happy with a baby later in the movie.
In addition, the music sequences never really catch fire, with the result that we're repeatedly told about Biggie's talent rather than shown any real evidence of it.
Notorious is watchable enough and well acted but it won't tell Biggie fans anything they didn't already know.