In review: Notorious (2009)
As a rapper, Christopher Wallace was always a man with a message to deliver to his audience, whether it was about the emotion effect that a woman’s breast cancer can have on her son, or the benefits of grabbin’ yo dick. Accordingly, Notorious is a movie that contains three explicit messages. Here they are, in ascending order of screen time afforded them:
1) Irrespective of whether you’ve been cheating on your girl or just going Chris Brown on her ass, all you need to do is beatbox to win your lady’s heart back
2) Despite heaps of circumstantial evidence, rumour, industry supposition, and that one song Papoose did, Sean Combs had no role or implication in the jacking or murder of Tupac Shakur, or the latter murder of his friend and employee The Notorious BIG
3) Lil Kim is a cunt
I can only assume that the Queen Bee forgot to include Voletta Wallace on 2007’s Christmas card list, as this movie paints her a hell of a lot worse (she’s played, by one of 3LW, as an only child who’s just received a boob job and a libido for her thirteenth birthday) than it does Tupac who, I don’t know if you’re aware of, fucked Biggie’s girl, the fat motherfucker.
I honestly think it would have been impossible to make a bad movie out of the base materials here: every time you hear Biggie’s voice on album shit suddenly gets more filmic, and really a montage of shots featuring the black Frank White slanging rock on street corners set to a permanent loop of “10 Crack Commandments” would have been a perfectly justifiable way to waste £11 down at your local Odeon. Plus this film also features Artie from the Sopranos as a racist police officer. That’s the kind of entertainment you just can’t buy.
There’s three main problems with Notorious. Firstly, we know all of this already. With the arguable exceptions of Shakur (who, in what can only be seen of the final shot of the Bicoastal War, is played with a slight, but identifiable, aura of campness throughout this film) and Eminem, no rapper mythologized himself on wax as well as Biggie did. We know that it was hard being from the slums, eating five cent gums not knowing where your meals comin’ from. We know his moms was forced to kick him out no doubt, that she had cancer in her breast, that she wished she’d got a fucking abortion. Notorious can do little more than provide more than illustrations of every moment hinted at on his albums, leaving the whole thing not so much a biopic but more a moving picture version of those “the illustrated story of…” features you used to get on bands like Let Loose and 911 in Smash Hits. At one point, Biggie even considers Lil Kim in a shirt and suspenders before having the brainwave “Keep the suspenders, lose the shirt”, before Kimberley pauses and inwardly gasps as if he’d just solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. Which is a shame, as some of the moments hinted at really bring a smile to your face, particularly the young, fat bodrick Biggie rhyming along to Curtis Blow in the school playground, before reciting the same rhymes back to his daughter 15 years later.
Secondly, Jamal Woolard: why? He’s not an actor, and as for his supposed resemblance to Biggie, he looks enough like him to make the film awkward to watch, refusing to let you suspend disbelief fully. He looks like a slightly Down’s-y version of Biggie, Biggie as a Homestar Runner character, Biggie crossed with Clifford the Big Red Dog. And in the live rapping scenes in the movie, he never comes across as ferocious, as hungry as B.I.G. did. Although it is funny to see that both the guys playing DJ Premier and Craig Mack had non-speaking roles in the film.
Thirdly, Diddy. I think the default critical perspective has rolled round 360 on him now, so we’re currently not meant to hate him for ruining hip-hop but rather thank him for saving it, so I can feel free to rage on him here but… this movie, coincidentally executive produced by a Mr Sean Combs, does paint the then-Puff Daddy as one of the true greats of Black American history, a proto-Obama who stood tall in the war-torn streets of Brooklyn, rising above it and telling the planet “How can we change the world if we can’t change ourselves?” while Clifford the BIG Red Dog looks on in open-mouthed astonishment. I’ll take a lot of historical reinvention in my biopics, but the idea that in 1995 Puffy took breaks from dancing in videos and going “Uh uh” to pose deep philosophical questions that could have Biggie, probably the best lyricist of all time, staring on in amazement, is probably a step too far.
I mean, yeah, go and see it obviously, in between the tragic murder of her son and having to squeeze him out of her cunt in the first place Voletta’s had a lot of pain in her life, she deserves the royalties from this. But it’s probably not that much more enjoyable than watching that YouTube clip of the 17-year-old Biggie battling on a street corner, walking to your bathroom mirror to throw shapes to “Kick In The Door”, and then returning to your PC to watch the YouTube clip of Biggie and Tupac freestyling at some awards’ show.