By rights, rappers and Hollywood should be a good fit. As one fan gushes here to Christopher ‘Biggie Smalls’ Wallace – aka Notorious B.I.G. – about his first album Ready To Die: his music is so real, it’s “like a movie”.
What he means is that it’s full of guns, gangsters, sex and drugs; an audio gangster movie. But unlike the clichéd gangsta flicks Hollywood was churning out by the fistful in the early ’90s, Biggie’s lyrics had the authenticity of first-hand experience.
He had the rap sheet to prove it and if that wasn’t enough, the bloody East Coast/West Coast feud that sprung up with Tupac Shakur (played here by Anthony Mackie) sealed the deal.
These guys were living the life until it killed them. Which, of course, it did, in matching drive-by shootings, by person – or persons – unknown.
George Tillman’s serviceable but uninspired Biggie biopic contrives to ignore the elephant in the room. Was Biggie involved in Tupac’s shooting(s)?
And was he targeted in a reprisal killing? Given that his mother, Voletta Wallace, is on board as producer (alongside Sean Combs aka P Diddy), it’s not surprising that the movie takes Biggie’s oft-repeated denials at face value, and instead constructs a safe morality tale about a wild kid from the wrong side of the tracks who had begun to put his house in order and accept his responsibilities to various women (including Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans) when he was brutally snatched away from them.
That may be the truth, or at least part of it, but the dull, plodding script – narrated from the grave by Biggie himself – and Tillman’s feckless, cable movie direction drains all the electricity out of the telling.
Still, it’s not a bad primer, and the movie scores one bona fide hit with the casting of charming, talented, suitably XXL newcomer Jamal Woolard in
the title role.
Shooting shy of scandal, Notorious turns the life of Biggie Smalls into an off-the-peg cautionary yarn. Aside from Woolard’s larger-the-life lead turn, it’s strictly B.I.G. for beginners.