By Ma’at Atkins
Last Thursday, the film NOTORIOUS was screened at The Esquire for a fairly packed house to check out the biopic on the life of one of the most talented rappers of our time, Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls. From all the hype, the film--which has raked in a strong $21 million in its 1st week out coming in at No. 4 at the Box Office-- has been dubbed the most anticipated hip-hop film of the new year. After peepin out the flick, the anticipation turned into predictability.
Directed by SOUL FOOD’s George Tillman and produced by Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace and Sean “P Diddy “ Combs, the film fits with all the other music bio flicks of tragic artists (e.g. Billie Holliday, Dorothy Dandridge, and more recently Frankie Lymon ) who are cut down too soon and leaves questions unanswered (and with both Wallace and Combs on the set, there were definitely wasn’t gonna be any investigation theories of Biggies death on film) .
As far as the film being just a film, it was just OK. It starts off a bit slow but picks up in the middle when Biggie tries to decide if he wants to record over the R&B track, “Juicy Fruit,” much to Puffy’s (played by Derek Luke) liking. It was also a bit having Biggie’s narrate the film “from the grave” giving it that I AM GOD feeling (It would have been cool if they did the reporter interviewing the star and mix in the story in between to make it seem more “down to earth.”)
As far as performances, newcomer rapper Jamal Woodard plays the rapper as an adult (Biggie’s actual son CJ played him as a child who actually does a better job than Woodard!). He does a fair job as the drug king mamma’s boy. But his portrayal of the slain rapper comes off a bit cartoonish (especially during the on again—off again heavy breathing due to the rapper’s asthma) instead of just giving a genuine performance of the rapper.
Derek Luke as Puffy is not memorable. His portrayal seems a bit hyper and boyish. He is definitely miscast. He is a good actor, but could not pull off the swagger of Puffy (maybe it had to do with Luke actually sayin’ in interviews Combs watched every gesture Luke made during filming).
Angela Bassett as Biggie’s mom, Voletta is, standard Angela Bassett: stern and proud (her on and off again Jamaican accent is also a bit noticeable). The other actresses in the film Antonique Smith as Faith Evans and Naturi as Lil Kim were kinda wasted. We only get to see how they reacted to Biggie’s charmin’ or cheatin’ on them(and not to mention the graphic sex scene with Lil Kim and Biggie) and not their daily lives away from Biggie.
The standout character ironically is the one whose bio flick should have been done first—2 Pac. Anthony Mackie did a believable job as 2 Pac . Although he didn’t look like him, Mackie gave an honest interpretation of 2 Pac without becoming an attempt to copy the rapper.
The saving grace of NOTORIOUS is the concert and recording studio scenes which helped the lack of energy to the rest of the film. As started earlier, it was expected that the investigation theories of Biggie’s death weren’t going to be touched in the film, but if they were touched, it would have made a much better film. I give it 2 out of 4 stars.
Out of four stars, I’d give it 2 out of 4. The film is Rated R for a lot of cussin, some sex scenes and nudity and some drugs bein slung.
FOOTNOTE: At the Esquire where this reviewer saw this film, the atmosphere around the film was also quite the movie. It was instructed that no one can bring their cell phones, cameras or any recording devices to the film. If they brought it, they either had to take it back in the car (F that. It was too friggin arctic outside to do that ish!) or get it ticketed on a table in an area where folk can leave it and claim it after the film. Anyone who had it on them was told by the film promoters that they would be arrested (Can you hear someone in jail being asked why were they locked up for? “Using my cell phone, man.”) It was jotted on the movie passes, but how many people actually are gonna read the fine print on things.
Then all the movie goers got the wand over by an usher to check for any weapons.WTF?
Was that really necessary? Was it cuz the film may bring out that thug element? Were we goin into a theater to see a flick or to a prison to visit somebody?
104.1 FM sponsored the promotions part of the screening which was cool. They gave the crowd the freebies from the flick (posters, CDs etc) and entertainment with DJ Krisstal on the 1s and 2s and a performance by STL rapper Yung Ro spittin his joint, “Dunk Dat” (plus it was a sight to see his two Dunk Dat Booty girlz tryin to dunk dat in the theater isles as people walked to their seats with an arm full of nachos and soda tryin not to spill it)
Lastly, Murphy lee and recording star Ginuwine were in the house to check out the movie. Ginuwine—whose in the Lou recording his CD for the past few months at Notifi Music in Brentwood-- was rockin his black mink jacket (and got a fresh texturizer to match) he wasn’t acknowledged in the crowd (maybe he wanted it that way with the radio station) but for the girl groupies in the crowd who saw him couldn’t help but to walk up to him and get their hugs and autographs on before they flick started. that was already decided by the man himself).
After the movie, folk were talkin about where they were goin next, but for YOURS TRULY, it was off to getting the cell phone from the table as huddles of folk with claim tickets were doin the same thing!