Notorious (15)

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The Independent Culture

Recounting the short life and times of the late rapper Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, this biopic tells somebody's version of the truth, though the presence of two main characters, Voletta Wallace (his mother) and Sean "Puffy" Combs (his friend and impresario), on the film's producer credits indicates that it will be anything but impartial.

George Tillman Jr's film works a conventional route from Biggie as a bright schoolboy (played by Wallace's own son, Christopher Jordan) through dealing drugs on Brooklyn street corners, prison and fatherhood to his eventual coming of age as a major player on the New York rap scene. (Though the continuity is slack: the lyric-scribbling boy is left-handed, while the man turns out to be right-handed). As the title star, the Brooklyn rapper Jamal Woolard does a decent impersonation, but it's only Biggie's music that makes him interesting: he's possessed of no special charisma or wit, he's a cheating husband and neglectful father, and he's prone to brutish tantrums. His wife, Faith (Antonique Smith), has to say the awful line, "I don't know who you are any more." At times, he seems hardly a grown-up, which, given his murder at only 24, is perhaps no great mystery. Angela Bassett is very watchable as his tough-love ma, but the countdown to his violent demise in March 1997 is unrelieved by insight into his character or any settlement of how the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry might have hastened his death. (Nick Broomfield's Biggie and Tupac had much more to offer on this subject). The boasts get louder, the bling shinier, but the film itself just gets increasingly monotonous.