Christopher Wallace (1972-1997) aka Biggie Smalls aka Notorious B.I.G. was a Brooklyn-born gangsta' rapper who passed away at just 24 years of age, a casualty of the infamous East Coast-West Coast turf war which first claimed the life of his primary rival Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). Tupac had dissed Biggie by claiming in a song to have slept with his wife, fellow hip-hop star Faith Evans (Antonique Smith).
Neither Biggie nor Tupac were exactly altar boys, with both boasting openly about their yay-long rap sheets.
But the bloody feud was much bigger than these two icons. On one side, you had L.A. producer Suge Knight (Sean Ringgold) and his stable of artists at Death Row Records; on the other, there were the upstarts from New York who Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke) had recently signed to his new label, Bad Boy. And although everybody knew that their crews were packing heat and hated each other, the murders went unsolved, probably because of the "no snitch" mindset adhered to by these thugs as a code of honor.
Unfortunately, "Notorious" sheds little light on the mystery of who killed Biggie and Tupac. Nonetheless, director George Tillman, Jr. has crafted an absorbing, cradle to the grave bio-pic which does vividly recount exactly how a latchkey kid being raised by an immigrant single-mom (Angela Bassett) in the slums of Bed-Stuy could have overcome the odds only to be slain at the height of his fame in a seemingly senseless drive-by shooting in Hollywood.
Much credit for the success of the flick must go to Jamal Woolard who makes an impressive screen debut in the title role here. The talented rapper-turned-actor achieves no mean feat in fully humanizing a fatally-flawed figure who could've easily come off as a one-dimensional monster instead of a charmer. After all, except for the fact that he made it in the music business, there isn't a lot about Biggie worth emulating.
Neither approving nor judging, "Notorious" simply presents the gluttonous Biggie in all his materialist glory, allowing the audience to decided what to make of his train wreck of a personal life. A relentlessly-unapologetic immorality play about a bona fide ghetto gangsta' apt to entertain even Joe Six-Pack.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.
Running time: 129 minutes
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
3-Disc DVD Extras: Widescreen theatrical feature film, unrated director's cut, Wolverine theatrical trailer, Valkyrie, S. Darko, The Wrestler, Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy, commentary by director George Tillman, Jr., screenwriters Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, and editor Dirk Westervelt, commentary by with Biggie's mom Voletta Wallace, and his manager Wayne Barrow, Behind the Scenes: The Making of Notorious, I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls, Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film, Biggie Boot Camp, Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance, Party & [Expletive] (never before seen footage), The B.I.G. Three-Sixty, Directing the Last Moments, It Happened Right Here, The Petersen Exit, The Shooting, The Impala, The Unfortunate Violent Act, The Window, 9 Deleted Scenes, 4 extended/alternate concerts, trailers from: Secret Life of Bees, Gospel Hill and Slumdog Millionaire, digital copy.
To see a trailer for Notorious, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDDv6pAbN_U