Review by Jack Foley
CHRISTOPHER ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace was a rapper who, in just a few years, shot from the tough streets of Brooklyn to the heights of hip-hop legend. George Tillman Jr’s biopic attempts to honour the memory of this music heavyweight, but shoots itself in the foot in the process.
Notorious is the type of biopic that’s told through rose-tinted specs. It’s co-produced by P Diddy and Wallace’s own mother and refrains from really delving into the dubious circumstances surrounding his death. Somewhat incredibly, it even squanders the supposed tragedy surrounding the artist’s rise and fall.
It’s big on music, big on ‘bling’ and is the type of movie that’s geared towards the MTV viewer. But it fails to really scratch the surface of the man behind the legend, or to really make him appear like the role model that Tillman and company would have us believe that he was.
Newcomer Jamal Woolard gives a credible performance as Wallace, but feels like he’s imitating him rather than really living him (like the great biopic performances do). While it almost goes without saying that Derek Luke’s charismatic portrayal of P Diddy paints the hip-hop producer/artist and megastar in the most favourable light of all.
As you might expect, Notorious charts Wallace’s rise from chubby, nerdy school kid to street dealer and eventual rap icon. In doing so, it chronicles his background in street crime, his failed relationships and the ego that led him to make so many bad choices along the way.
The irony is supposed to be that Wallace’s life was taken in an unsolved drive-by shooting just as he was beginning to get his life in order and accept the responsibilities of life and fame.
But by the time viewers reach that point, they may well feel that Wallace is beyond sympathy, while some of his supposedly telling observations are laughably naïve – witness him telling his daughter that she should never allow a man to call her a “bitch” even though he’s spent the whole film doing it and being cheered along in the process.
Indeed, the depiction of women in the film is really quite derogatory, with most of them appearing as sassy girls with attitude, who don’t mind shedding their clothes, and who get by through their ability to deliver a put-down as telling as the B.I.G. himself. Only Angela Bassett, as Wallace’s long-suffering mum, is afforded any dignity or respect.
Far from painting hip-hop culture in a notable light, Notorious actually serves as a firm underlining of all that’s bad about it. It offers no role models, no inspiration and very little to recommend it.
Running time: 122mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 22, 2009