Fans of the Notorious B.I.G. have probably been waiting eagerly for this release - a new movie that traces the star's life from his school days to his rise to fame and notoriety, presumably thought of as a pretty accurate account in light of the fact that the film boasts close associate to the star Sean 'P Diddy' Combs as its executive producer.
'Notorious' takes us right back to the beginning, where Christopher 'Biggie' Wallace (Wallace/Woolard) is being raised by his mother, who is trying her best to keep him off the mean streets of Brooklyn and out of trouble. The young Biggie is anything but cool. He doesn't wear flash gear or talk the talk but he's determined to change all that. As the years roll by, Biggie becomes the king of the schoolyard, dealing drugs on street corners to fund his new dripping-in-bling lifestyle.
From here on he's a good guy reluctantly turned bad, dealing drugs to pregnant women in order to build a life for himself and his own pregnant girlfriend, until it all goes horribly wrong and he ends up behind bars. While there he uses his long, empty days to scribble rhymes and tunes into tattered notebooks. Later, a meeting with music mogul Sean 'Puffy' Combs (Luke) kick starts Biggie's career, making his raps about life on Brooklyn's streets legendary. But Biggie doesn't handle fame well, making promises to everyone, while all the time trying to take advantage of the perks of his celebrity, much to the disgust of his girlfriends at various stages, Jan (Mitchell) and Lil' Kim (Naughton), and wife Faith Evans (Smith).
Of course the chapter that became one of the major legacies from Biggie's life is covered, if not in massive depth. The East Coast vs West Coast, that is Notorious BIG vs Tupac Shakur (Mackie), war features, but very much as an add-on to Biggie's entire life story here. And the whole affair feels very muted and disappointing. There's never a real sense of the gang hatred that seemed to develop overnight or the paranoia that sparked the war between the two sides.
The representations of Christopher 'Biggie' Wallace, both as a child (played by his real-life son Christopher Jordan Wallace) and in later life (Jamal Woolard) are convincing, but the dialogue always comes off as cliché-ridden and incredulous. Maybe Biggie was all about spouting clichéd lines, like the movie suggests, but that's probably not the impression that most of his fans had of him, and after watching you're left with a sense that the music icon was just never as cool as he wanted to believe he was. In a largely disappointing movie, it is supporting actor Derek Luke that stands out for his portrayal of Sean 'Puffy' Combs, really getting to grips with his mannerisms and physical attributes.
The biggest let-down about 'Notorious' is that there is no sense of urgency about its eventual climax. Even equipped with the knowledge of the outcome, you can never feel a sense of the imminent threat that is supposed to be hanging in the air before the close, leaving you with the feeling that both the Brooklyn of the day and its famous son were misrepresented or somehow cheated here.