Life After Death

He loves it when you call him Big Poppa. Photo Courtesy Phil Caruso/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Ashley Goetz

He loves it when you call him Big Poppa. Photo Courtesy Phil Caruso/Fox Searchlight Pictures

âÄúNotorious âÄú Directed by: George Tillman Jr. Starring: Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie Rated: R Showing at: Area theaters More than a decade has passed since Biggie Smalls was gunned down in Los Angeles and the story has since become as notorious as its protagonist, with new conspiracy theories popping up each day and (for some odd reason) a continuing necessity to choose sides in the long-dead East Coast vs. West Coast feud. But many of those who grew up listening to B.I.G. records were too young to fully understand the events surrounding his death and knew little about his formative years. âÄúNotoriousâÄù strives to shed light on these events, giving an adequate, but at times bland, account of BiggieâÄôs life, chronicling his rise from common hustler to rap superstar. The film is the brainchild of the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, Sean âÄúDiddyâÄù Combs, who wanted to pay homage to his dearly departed friend. Tracing BiggieâÄôs humble origins as Christopher Wallace , the film takes us through the Brooklyn rapperâÄôs early days, highlighting his intelligence and amiability, and detailing just how he overcame his situation and became a legend. But while the real-life events might have been fantastic and awe inspiring, their dramatization is only moderately entertaining and hardly ever rousing. At 100 minutes, the film trudges through the bare-essentials, leaving little time to expound on the lesser-known happenings in the rapperâÄôs life or to even touch upon the now-famous events with any semblance of poignancy. These problems are partly attributable to a lackluster script, penned by Reggie Rock Bythewood , whose other notable screenplay was for the appalling âÄúBiker Boyz ,âÄù and poor direction from George Tillman, Jr. (âÄúBarbershopâÄù series) who fails to imbue the story with any sentimentality that doesnâÄôt plunge into schmaltz territory. The filmâÄôs saving grace is the spot-on lead performance by newcomer Jamal Woolard. Woolard perfectly captures everything from BiggieâÄôs swagger to his vocal inflection. His only flaw âÄî and it is a minor one âÄî is that his rapping voice isnâÄôt low enough to capture BiggieâÄôs true flow. In a movie peppered with song covers, this is somewhat of a distraction. Also, Naturi Naughton , formerly of 3LW fame , delivers an entertaining performance as LilâÄô Kim, one of the few characters that actually changes over the course of the movie. The other performances are hardly worth mentioning as they are either way off the mark (Anthony Mackie as Tupac) or just overdramatic (Angela Bassett as BiggieâÄôs mom, Voletta Wallace ). But the filmâÄôs real nail in the coffin is the fact that the Diddy produced it. The film loses all credibility from CombsâÄô constant meddling. He asserts himself as the primary influence in everything that Biggie ever did, with the film alleging that it was Puffy that pulled him out of the streets, made his first record as great as it was and acted as his spiritual guide, telling him, âÄúYou can’t change the world until you change yourself.âÄù Deep, Puff. In addition, the pseudo-inspirational ending tacked on by Combs is enough to break the already dangerously high schmaltz-meter and the obvious reworking of the events makes for a severely biased film. ItâÄôs regrettable that âÄúNotoriousâÄù canâÄôt capture the boldness its subject displayed through his storied life. This might be the glossiest biopic in recent memory as the filmmakers decided to forgo the wonders of BiggieâÄôs reality and instead make a basic rise and fall narrative. Maybe someday there will be a film that does justice to his story, but unfortunately âÄúNotoriousâÄù was not it. 3 out of 5 stars