George Tillman, Jr's eschatological hip-hop odyssey “Notorious” is a chilling look at the very short rise and fall of the talented and rotund rapper Biggie Smalls. He was a shy, fat kid – and Christopher Wallace's single mother tried to keep him in school, out of the drug trade, out of the gangs, but the streets and lure of easy money were too strong for the smart and ambitious youngster. Luckily he had a talent, he could rap, and he had an angle -- a big man from the streets of Brooklyn whose raw rhymes could even up the score between the East Coast and West Coast rap rivalry. It was a war that ultimately would claim the lives of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, two of the biggest names at the time.
Being a 42-year-old white guy, I'm not much of a rap fan, but I ain't no hater either. So while my expectations were low coming into this one, I found it quite watchable, perhaps because of my lack of knowledge about the deadly goings-on between the nouveau riche dumb asses who got used to selling drugs and women, using drugs and women, and shooting at each other in their old hoods, and then kept up the tradition once they hit it big. Well, old habits die hard I guess. It was just plain fascinating. Newcomer Jamal Woolard plays the teenage and adult Biggie, and brings to the role an innocence that certainly underscores the seriousness of the situation that unfolds and escalates around him. Another interesting casting move -- Biggie's real-life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, plays the “little” Biggie, and the kid does a nice job as well.
As fascinating as the characters are in the film, the dialog is a bit listless and it never quite jumps off the screen, but it does manage to sufficiently tell the story, and there's more than enough Biggie tunes to satisfy the ears. Biggie fans will no doubt enjoy some of the hip-hop history involving Biggie's relationships with Faith Evans and Lil' Kim, as well as Sean Puffy Combs and others. As always, I recommend going with the Blu-Ray version of this one. If you've never been to New York or L.A., then the blazingly sharp night sequences really capture their flavor. Extra goodies include the theatrical and director's cuts, audio commentaries from the writers and the director, featurettes chronicling the production, and DTS surround sound. Oh, there's also some nice 1080p Hi-Def nudity sprinkled in, if only there were some way to pixel out the naked Biggie underneath Lil' Kim? Well, I guess that feature has yet to be added to the Blu-Ray toolbox. And with those sequences in mind, if you decide to send Grandma a copy of “Notorious” you may want to make sure it's the Cary Grant version.