Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, and for drug content, 100 minutes
"Notorious" is an affecting look at a bigger-than-life rapper
Anyone who's had an interest in rap or R&B music over the years knows the story of influential rapper Notorious B.I.G., or Christopher Wallace, who was gunned down and murdered in 1997. "Notorious" tells the life and death story of Wallace, who quickly rose to fame in the early '90s and much like colleague Tupac Shakur, were talented musicians who died way too early. "Notorious" is an affecting, honest portrayal of Wallace, though the film sometimes veers off in too many directions and lacks a certain intensity that Wallace emanated in his music.
Newcomer Jamal Woolard, making his feature film debut, portrays the talented rapper, who grew up in Brooklyn and started dealing drugs at an early age to better his life. He realized he was an astute businessman and continued in that lifestyle until he started writing and singing songs. His skills were noticed by Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke), who gave him his first big break.
However, Notorious had many tumultuous relationships, including with his fiery, strong-willed mother Voletta (Angela Bassett), not to mention many, many women, including his wife Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) and 'Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton), with whom he had a stormy affair but later helped mold her career. Notorious quick rise to fame gave him many friends and enemies on both the east and west coast, and Wallace was tragically gunned down in L.A. in 1997.
"Soul Food's" George Tillman Jr. helms "Notorious" with standard, conventional flair, but he gives an honest, realistc portrayal of Wallace, with a strong performance from newcomer Woolward, who gained weight to portray Wallace. He's best at capturing the fun aspect of B.I.G's personality, though by all accounts Wallace was seemingly a far more intense person that portrayed in the film. The best parts of "Notorious," unsurprisingly, deal with Wallace's music, which give the film life and energy.
"Notorious" is also a relevant, affecting but sympathetic look at what happens with too much fame and money too soon, as Wallace's fame came at a clear cost to those around him. It's nice seeing such real musicians as Tupac Shakur (played with energy by Anthony Mackie), Combs, Evans and 'Lil Kim portrayed in the movie, and most are played in a positive light (though 'Lil Kim may disagree with that).
The mid-sections of "Notorious" tend to veer off in too many directions and loses focus and intensity from the story itself. One thing is for sure, and that is Wallace's influence even on rap stars of today. As tragic and sad a story as it is, Wallace and his music continue to live on (the soundtrack has several of his songs). "Notorious" is worth a look at a real-life tragic figure, but also the unfortunate effects of fame and fortune.