Director    George Tillman Jr
Starring    Jemal Woolard, Derek Luke, Naturi Naughton, Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie
Release    16 JAN (US) 13 FEB (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


16th February 2009

Think of Notorious as a violent version of Ray or Walk the Line. After all, they've got their similarities - they're musical, we know they don't end well and they both involve a fair bit of good ol' drug abuse. The question is, unlike the Ray Charles and Johnny Cash biopics, how interested are we in the life story of a rapper who became more famous after his death? Does it warrant spending two hours watching his life play out on the big screen? And didn't we see a similar film to this with 50 Cent's self-obsessed 'life story'?

Director George Tillman Jr. has the job of telling us how Christopher Wallace, a fat little kid from Brooklyn, went on to become a teenage crack dealer turned bonafide gangsta and one of the most famous rappers of all time until his death in 1997. We watch as young Wallace starts selling crack on street corners, gets kicked out of class for outsmarting his maths teacher, gets a girl pregnant and sorts out his rap career after meeting Sean Combs (Luke). Everything is pretty much covered by Tillman. We learn a few things too - Notorious BIG made fat guys think they were sexy, and had three women (at least) on the go at the same time.

When you look at the credits - featuring Biggie's mum Voletta, mentor P Diddy and his managers acting as producers - you know Notorious will be painting the subject in the best possible, if somewhat jaded light. It's patently obvious the film wants us to know that Wallace was actually a very clever and loving young man who just happened to get caught up in the risks that come with a high profile rap career. How much of that is actually on the ball is open to debate. The film steers well clear of controversy with the infamous East Coast/West Coast feud boiled down to as little as a few TV reports and newspaper snippets.

Newcomer Jemal 'Gravy' Woolard - also a rotund rapper from Brooklyn - makes up for the slow, plodding, narrative with an excellent turn as the Notorious BIG, resulting in somewhat of a resurrection of the tubby rapper. Everything is there - the fat man waddle, the deep booming voice and the cocksure attitude that got the ladies flocking to his side, two of which were Lil Kim and Faith Evan, the latter marrying him and fathering his son. There's no doubt that Woolard's performance will take him places and it keeps the rest of the cast of relative unknowns deep in the shadows, particularly 8 Mile's Anthony Mackie, who wears a hat with 'Thug Life' on it just to remind us that he is actually meant to be Tupac Shakur.

Ultimately, Notorious would have benefited more had it been made by a neutral party with a totally unbiased view of BIG. What we're left with is nothing more than a made-for-TV tribute with too much involvement from friends and family that glosses over certain controversial aspects of his life. Whether or not he was involved in the shooting of his friend-turned-enemy, Tupac Shakur, is merely covered by Biggie swearing at the TV, having a teary chat with his mum over the phone and generally looking a bit down in the dumps. Unfortunately, Notorious is far too drawn out considering Wallace died at only 24. Still, we do get boobs, sex, gun fights and plenty of F'ing and blinding. Beat that, Cash!

More:  Drama  Biopic  Music
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