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January 2009

by Wilson Morales


Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Screenwriter: Reggie Rock Bythewood, Cheo Hodari Coker
Cast: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton, Dennis White, Julia Pace Mitchell, Sean Ringgold, Marc John Jeffries, Kevin Phillips, Edwin Freeman
Rating: R (for pervasive language, some strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, and for drug content


After numerous articles, documentaries and gossip, the story of Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace is finally on the big screen in 'Notorious.’ With a group of veterans (Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, and Anthony Mackie) and newcomers ( Jamal “Gravy” Woolard, Antonique Smith, Julia Pace Mitchell and Naturi Naughton), the film captures the essence of the famous rapper from Brooklyn. Although one may question how objective it is, considering it's produced by Wallace’s mother and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, ‘Notorious’ is explosive, fun and entertaining.

Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, Christopher Wallace wanted to be more than just an average kid scraping by in school. He wanted to provide for, and help out, his single mom, Violetta (Bassett), and when the opportunity arises to make some money, he jumps at it. With his childhood friend Damion, Chris rules the streets as a drug dealer, making money left and right, until the day comes when the law catches up with him and jail becomes inevitable. What gets him through the tough times is his mom's support and his unique rapping abilities.

When Damion sacrifices himself to give Christopher an opportunity to take his skills as a rapper to a higher level, Biggie hooks up with music producer Sean “Puffy” Combs. Life would never be the same for the two of them. In the meantime, Biggie juggles between the women in his life: Jan (Julia Pace Mitchell), mother of his first child; his mistress Kim Jones, aka Lil' Kim; and wife, singer Faith Evans.

With his growing popularity and record sales booming, Biggie is on top of the world until the East Coast-West Coast drama unfolds and, ultimately, leads to one of the darkest days in the rap world.

As Biggie Smalls, Woolard has the persona down pat. He may not look like Big, but he’s a natural in capturing his mannerisms and lyrical skills to a science. The film rests on his shoulders, and he carries it like an atlas. Can't imagine why Combs wouldn't play himself in the film, as he is the only actor among the main principals, but, nevertheless, Luke is charismatic in his performance. The supporting cast is composed of newcomers who have bright futures in the business if they stay the course, specifically Smith, who played Faith, and Naughton, who sparkles as Kim.

As for the brough-ha-ha that the real Lil' Kim is stirring about the way the she’s portrayed, she does have some legit concern. Although Naughton plays the role with some sassiness, she's a newcomer who didn't get any insight from Kim but goes by what's on the script, which was written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker. All we see is the sex and jealously from Kim, which isn't a flattering portrayal.

In her career, Bassett has played Betty Shabazz, Tina Turner, Rosa Parks and Katherine Jackson (Michael's mom), so when casting the role of Violetta Wallace, you can't wrong with her. She plays it with finesse. Her only flaw is that her Jamaican accent comes in and out of the scenes. Mackie has played Tupac on stage and was Papa Doc in '8 Mile', so in playing 'Pac again, he’s flawless.

For those who are true Biggie fans and followed his path when he was alive, and then read all the articles and watched the numerous documentaries on his life, there's nothing new that 'Notorious' offers. All of the East Coast-West Coast drama is told through the perspective of Biggie, with some help from Lil' Cease. There's no new discovery on his death, but director Tillman has put together an exciting tale of one of the greatest rappers, and many will be pleased when they leave the theater. Your only regret will be that Big’s life should have been longer.