My Review Of Notorious (and the experience of seeing it at my local movie theater)

January 21, 2009


If this weekend’s box office numbers are any indication, fat men made quite a splash, as Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Jesus Christ!) was the number one movie in the country, and the 2nd biggest opening for a film ever during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend . Meanwhile Noturious, the biopic chronicling the life and tragic death of rapper Notorious B.I.G. managed to have the best per-screen average of any film in the top 12, making 24 million dollars in just over 1,600 theaters.

Now, I wouldn’t say I was necessarly anticipating seeing Notorious, but I was interested. Of all the musical biopics ever made, we had yet to see one focused on a hip-hop artist. And admittedly, it was fascinating to relive some of the events of Big’s life in a dramatic context, having already been around to see most of it play out in real life. The film starts by giving us a brief glimpse of a young Christopher Wallace (played by Biggie’s real-life son), growing up in Brooklyn, and well on his way to being a first-class student. But a combination of influences from the dangers of standing out as an overacheiver in his neighborhood to good old peer pressure led him to dealing drugs. As a teenager (played onward by Jamal Woolard), Wallace had the respect of his peers, but was moving too fast in terms of his illegal activities. While in jail, he returned to his childhood hobby of rapping, and once released, a chance meeting with young Uptown Records executive, Sean Combs (Derek Luke), would ultimately change his life.

Notorious certainly doesn’t sugarcoat things or try to portray B.I.G. in a completely positive light. Much of the time, he’s portrayed as a womanizer, an absentee father, and sometimes disturbingly apathetic. But there are also moments where his natural charm shines through, his humility at times, and above all, his skills as an emcee and storyteller. Hearing his songs throughout the film, I’m reminded of just how skillful he was at rhyming. Even if the title of “Greatest Rapper of All-Time” is arguable, he certainly was one of the best of his era, and more than deserving of the acclaim he received. Acting-wise, newcomer Jamal Woolard certainly does Big justice in my opinion. The voice isn’t 100 % spot on, but few could really master such a unique voice. Beyond that, he brings the necessary weight (no pun intended) for the film’s most dramatic moments, and masters Big’s confidence and self-awareness.

While not perfect, the film also does an admirable job in how the people around Biggie are portrayed. Could Angela Bassett (as Big’s mother Volleta Wallace) have done a better Jamaican accent? Sure. But even my West Indian parents’ accents aren’t that strong anymore. The film definitely acknowledges Voletta Wallace’s relationship with her son, and the issues she had with some of  his life choices. We’ve also got Derek Luke doing very well as Sean Combs, even getting Diddy’s signature dance down pat! His introduction in the film is classic Diddy, as he talks about being able to survive butt naked in a jungle and come out with a chinchilla coat and an extra ten pounds from eating whatever animals were around. As for the other ladies in Big’s life, Naturi Naughton was damn near perfect as Lil’ Kim, even if her real life counterpart has issues with how she’s portrayed in the film. If anything, she should be flattered, ’cause Naturi’s natural fun bags are way larger than Kim’s were back in the day before she started turning herself into a Barbie Doll. Speaking of breast, the only thing I’ll hold against Antonique Smith as Faith Evans is how noticeably fake that tattoo on her left tittie was! That thing might as well have said “Temporary”! Beyond that, I thought she was lovely.

About the only two casting issues I had with Notorious were Marc John Jeffers as Lil’ Cease and Anthony Mackie as Tupac. Neither actor is believeable in their respective roles. In the case of Mackie, I can’t even fault him that much because really, the only person who could probably capture the essence of Tupac in a film would be. . . Tupac.  However, I think the film still manages to paint an accurate picture of the kind of man he was in his last days . . . . batshits crazy for the most part. 

All things considered, Notorious is a solid film. It’s competently shot, and tells as good a story about B.I.G. as anyone else could. If anything, I felt the low-budget aesthetics helped sell the story more. Hip-hop was still a little gritty and grimey back in the day, and even Diddy was just beginning to set a standard for the flashier elements we’ve seen since. For all Biggie’s faults, he was still a master of his craft, and did quite a bit for rap and hip-hop in such a short span of time.

(3 out of 5)

As for actually going to the theater to see the film, this is another situation where I must say to my fellow black people: STOP BRINGING YOUR BABIES AND TODDLERS TO R-RATED MOVIES!!! Babies in movies in general shouldn’t mix in the first place, because sure enough, there were at least two incidents where a baby was crying during the film. And I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but my parents never actively took me to R-Rated films where there was a high likelihood of heavy cursing and/or violence, and/or floppin’ titties, when I was a small child! Am I missing something here? Is it really that hard for some people to either get someone to watch their child, or failing that, accept that they might not get to see a particular movie in theaters?! Sometimes you gotta sacrifice the little things when you’ve got kids. And that’s one to grow on!


One comment

  1. You’re an ass. Funbags?

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