After a troubled youth, everything changes for Christopher 'The Notorious B.I.G.' Wallace (Jamal Woolard) when a freestyle rap tape that Biggie created just for fun ends up with B.I.G. Daddy Kane's DJ Mister Cee (Edwin Freeman), and eventually in the hands of ambitious rap impresario Sean 'Puffy' Combs (Derek Luke), whose marketing savvy and production genius transform Biggie into a cultural sensation. With his career taking off, Biggie finds himself with "mo' money, mo' problems" and under all kinds of new pressures. His managers, Wayne Barrow (C. Malik Whitfield) and Mark Pitts (Kevin Phillip), attempt to keep the young man's feet on the ground and mind in the studio, as he juggles the demands of recording, fatherhood and marriage to fellow Bad Boy artist Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) not to mention his complicated friendship with fellow Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Kimberly "Lil' Kim" Jones (Naturi Naughton) and the increasingly heated rivalry with West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hip hop fans, at least those who followed US East Coast rapper Biggie Small [aka Christopher Wallace] (Jamal Woolard) rejoice. Biggie gets the big star treatment in this biopic filled with fine actors - and two hours of hip hop. And it's not only the lyrics that are incomprehensible, but much of the dialogue, spoken in the heavily accented black American street language. We can however, make out lots of 'nigger', 'bitch', 'ya know what ahm talkin bout' and of course, 'f**k' and 'muthaf**ker'. Sometimes all these in a single line of dialogue. (Can't really call them sentences.) It wouldn't matter, though, if it communicated.
The story is as garbled as the words, made even less clear by the hip hop style of filmmaking. Bling bling, dancing crowds and hip hopping artists (?) are featured - frantically, frequently, fervently.
Biggie seems to have found maturity in his mid 20s, and there is little to recommend him as a role model - but this is a different world, and he was apparently influential. At least people listened to his songs (which is more than we can on this soundtrack). Jamal Woolard certainly fits the role for size and is credibly confused as a young man without a father as a male role model - the reason cited for his bad behaviour. Unfaithful, selfish, criminal and unskilled, he presents as a loser trying to prove his worth by succeeding in the world of rap.
The film demonstrates how insular this world is, as the East and West coast artists and their fans engage in a deadly civil war - over the geographicality of rap, for pity's sake. The ritualistic behaviour, the jargon of the streets and the incessant posturing of the rapping community gets very tedious. There is little here to attract anyone but the core fan-base.
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CAST: Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Angela Basset, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Dennis L.A. White, Marc John Jefferies, Anthony Mackie
PRODUCER: Wayne Barrow, Edward Bates, Mark Pitts, Robert Teitel, Voletta Wallace
DIRECTOR: George Tillman jr
SCRIPT: Reggie Rock Bythewood, Cheo Hodari Coker
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Grady
EDITOR: Dirk Westervelt
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Musky
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 12, 2009