Notorious (2009) (R) ★★

Review Date: January 16th, 2009

No fire in this tale about one of rap music's most notorious shooting stars.


Starting near the end of his short 24-year life and then told in flashback, this film version of Christopher "Notorious B.I.G" Wallace's (Jamal Woolard) rapid rise from the streets of Brooklyn to fame is told in standard-issue Hollywood biopic style. We see this Catholic honors student (played by his real life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace) become a teenage drug dealer and accidental father before a chance recording finds its way to Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke), who engineers an almost immediate rise to fame, fortune -- and trouble. "Biggie" now must juggle his newfound recording career, a marriage to fellow artist Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), his romantic encounters with female rap comer, L'il Kim (Naturi Naughton) and a major East Coast/West Coast rivalry with Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) that leads to tragedy for both.


As Wallace, Brooklyn rapper Woolard is almost indistinguishable from the real man himself. He's completely convincing performing B.I.G's biggie hits and proves himself to be a first-rate dramatic actor as well -- at least in a story like this that he can clearly relate to. As his mother, Angela Bassett makes the most of limited screen time (despite top billing) and expertly conveys the angst of a parent fighting a losing battle for her son. Luke again shows why he is so promising playing Puffy with just the right amount of flash and supreme confidence. Unfortunately, the "balanced" portrait of Combs and many others in B.I.G's life is tainted by the fact this film was produced by some of the real life players, including his managers, mother and executive producer Combs.


George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) directs this by-the-numbers account of Biggie's life in a style we have seen countless times before. Except for a couple of occasions, he doesn't even let the rap sequences play out to give us an idea of how this guy whose songs reflected his rough Brooklyn lifestyle could climb to the top so fast. Whatever was special is lost in what appears to be a brazen attempt to sell soundtrack albums.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.