In music terms, Brooklyn’s Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace was a hip-hop superstar to rival Oakland’s Tupac Shakur. In movie terms, however, 2Pac has long overshadowed B.I.G. with the films he made as an actor and the documentaries that followed in the wake of his similarly-unsolved murder. George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men of Honor) aims to correct that imbalance with Notorious, the authorized biography of the larger-than-life New York rapper. Produced by his mother, Voletta Wallace (played by Angela Bassett), and record producer Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke), Tillman presents Biggie as a bright child who grew up to be a drug dealer before finding his true calling on stage, only to be cut down in the prime of life. In his feature-film debut, Jamal “Gravy” Woolard captures Biggie’s complexity–the loyalty to his crew, the disloyalty to his ladies (including Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans)–but struggles to make him as sympathetic as the figure that emerges in Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac, simply because the script relies too heavily on the usual musical-bio clichés. Fortunately, several bright spots elevate the scenario, such as Anthony Mackie as Pac, Christopher Wallace Jr. as young Biggie, and Woolard’s rapping, which segues seamlessly into B.I.G.’s (the soundtrack mixes original tracks with remakes). If Notorious isn’t a failure, it isn’t a triumph either, but Tillman has crafted it with love and respect, and only a stone could remain unmoved by the real-life funeral footage at the end.
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