*** (out of 5)
January 16, 2009
Jamal Woolard as CHRIS WALLACE
Derek Luke as SEAN “PUFFY” COMBS
Angela Bassett as VOLETTA WALLACE
Naturi Naughton as LIL KIM
Anthony Mackie as TUPAC SHAKUR
Antonique Smith as FAITH EVANS
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Anyone who knows me understands that I am not a big fan of rap or hip-hop music. I’ve never bought a rap album, and even though I went to college during the rise of the East Coast/West Coast feud in hip-hop, I really never listened to any of the music in the battle.
Hey, what do you expect from a fat, white guy living in Ohio?
This general lack of interest I have for the genre made for interesting viewing of the film “Notorious.” The film is a biopic of the influential rap legend Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G., aka Chris Wallace (Jamal Woolard). He grew up in the ghetto of Brooklyn, selling drugs and committing a variety of petty crimes. However, when he took his rhymes on the street to Sean Combs (Derek Luke), he was made into a star.
The film follows Wallace from the streets to being a legend of hip-hop, including his various affairs with female singers and rappers, including Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). However, when the East Coast/West Coast turf war in the rap industry led to violence with him and Tupac Shakur, tragedy struck.
The entertainment industry is littered with the corpses of famous people who died before their time – from James Dean to Heath Ledger. Biggie Small, who died when he was only 24, is not unique. However, the filmmakers of “Notorious” do their best to give him a unique spin.
Since I don’t know anything about the real story, I found myself wrapped up in the drama. The film has a definite direction, although it lacks some focus on some answers behind the events. A little too much time is spent in recording studios, showing the making of the raps Wallace made famous. I suppose the fans of his music will eat this up, but for me, I got lost in the shuffle.
Overall, the film is well acted. Jamal Woolard does a fine job as the legendary rapper, and Derek Luke turns in a solid performance as hip-hop guru Sean “Puffy” Combs. I do have to give a special nod to Naturi Naughton, who plays the spunky and sultry Lil Kim. Word on the street is that the real Lil Kim isn’t pleased with this portrayal, but considering Naughton’s level of sensuality, I’m okay with it.
To a degree, I commend the filmmakers for showing Wallace in his true form for the better part of the film. Let’s face it, the guy was a sleaze bag. He sold drugs. He dabbled in crime. Regardless of what the film has to say, many still suspect him behind the death of Tupac Shakur (a thug and a sleaze in his own right, but still a murder victim). Heck, the film even makes a point to show Wallace selling drugs to a pregnant lady. He wasn’t a great man. A great rapper, maybe. But he was still a thug.
By the end of the film, the movie really goes overboard to show Wallace as a redeemed soul, as if he knew his life were ending. However, I expect this from a movie that was produced by Wallace’s mother. And I kind of expect a puff piece with Sean Combs as the producer… pun intended.
We haven’t had a good biopic of a musician in a while, and on this note, “Notorious” fits the bill. However, I caution parents against letting their kids idolize a character like him. I don’t care if he was keeping it real and telling the stories from the street. Here’s a man who had it all… fame, money, power and women. Yet he still died before his 25th birthday. It’s not a life you want for your kids.