Imagine my surprise when I realized that this is not a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock film.
Actually, I do understand why George Tillman, Jr. felt like "Notorious" was the right title for his biopic on Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls. What's funny is just how non-scandalous Wallace seems in this treatment of his life story. As played by Jamal Woolard, Biggie is sort of a soft-hearted mama's boy, a ghetto entrepeneur who sees drugs and music as purely commerical prospects. Most of the film's runtime traces the key relationships in his life, primarily with women. His mother, Violetta (Angela Bassett) comes off best, unsurprisingly, a strong and even saintly stereotype that still works because Bassett is just that good. Naturi Naughton plays Li'l Kim, and it's a tough role. As written, the character is a shallow and slightly mysogynistic version of a complex and charismatic performer, but Naughton manages to invest her with a dignity and a righteous rage that makes it easy to overlook how she's written.
Antonique Smith isn't as lucky in her role as Faith Evans, given even less to do by the script. She's basically the textbook definition of "long-suffering," waiting for Christopher to grow up and figure himself out. Derek Luke as Sean Combs and Anthony Mackie as Tupac both do decent work without even slightly resembling their real-life counterparts. It doesn't help that the video age gave us so much footage of these people to compare to, although in the case of Woolard, it actually works in his favor. While Luke and Mackie may not seem like the real deal, Woolard does. He's got the same particular blend of stone thug and vulnerable kid that made the real Biggie so magnetic.
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"Notorious" hits all the major milestones in the short professional life of Wallace, and truth be told, it's fairly standard biopic material. What makes the film worth seeing is the energy that Tillman and the cast bring to things. Tillman, the director of "Soul Food," keeps things light and real and constantly moving, and it helps that the soundtrack is wall-to-wall with some of the most recognizable hip-hop of the last fifteen years. It's a slick package overall, and the idea of building this sort of mythology around a pop culture biography may not be new, but doing it in the hip-hop world is. So who's going to step up and make the Eazy-E biopic? Because that's one that I'd love to see given this reverant a treatment.
At any rate, the Fox BluRay offers a rich picture and truly exceptional sound. It's a really nice transfer, and if you're a fan of the movie or the people it deals with, it's worth adding to your library.
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