If there’s something praiseworthy about Notorious, it’s that it pulls off the remarkable, ignominious feat of making its deceased subject less likeable than one remembers. George Tillman Jr.‘s sketchy film about the late Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. Christopher Wallace, works double time reshaping the Brooklyn-born rap superstar’s life into the standard biopic mold, a predictable enterprise that Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker’s shallow script can’t even pull off with mild success. The motions are certainly gone through: Biggie is the fat kid with no dad; Biggie is the street hustler making money to support his daughter and baby mama; Biggie is hip-hop’s hot new thing; Biggie is feuding with 2Pac and Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans and getting gunned down at the age of 24. Anyone remotely interested in Biggie has long since had these particulars cemented in their brains by countless magazine and MTV eulogies, and Notorious brings nothing new to them save for a mixture of reductivism and a decidedly uncritical eye. Throughout, Biggie acts borderline-reprehensibly to everyone he ostensibly cares about—cheating on his various girlfriends and wife Evans, walking out on his mom when she reports that she has breast cancer, shirking parental responsibility for celeb partying—and the film barely bats an eye, too busy is it celebrating his big-pimping lifestyle and promoting the notion that the rapper was, at heart, a raw, uncompromising autobiographical storyteller. This may be true, but Tillman’s tell-don’t-show film never bothers to depict how his experiences informed his art. Instead, it merely delivers poorly acted soap-opera and sub-gangster drama performed by thesps either middling (Jamal Woolard as Biggie, Naturi Naughton as perpetually nude Kim) or slumming (Angela Bassett as Mommy Wallace), save for Derek Luke, who amusingly nails Sean “Puffy” Comb’s signature goofy dancing. A preposterously dewy-eyed finale features repeated maxims and convenient developments to cast the rapper’s saga as one of a flawed man cut down just as he had matured into a responsible adult, but such absolving redemption pap, coming on the heels of two hours’ worth of Biggie’s selfish behavior, has a fictional falsity that’s at direct odds with the man’s celebrated hard-knock rhymes.
- George Tillman Jr.
- Reggie Rock Bythewood, Choe Hodari Coker
- Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Naturi Naughton, Dennis L.A. White, Anthony Makie
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: