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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

B.I.G. Flick Not That Sick

“Tuned Into Pop Culture” guest contributor Brandon C. Baker is a News-Herald staff writer.

Before reading further, understand that I’ve been a fan of the Notorious B.I.G. since “Party & B.S.” and his early appearances on Supercat and Mary J. Blige remixes. In other words, a bad review of the Fox Searchlight biopic doesn’t equal a misinformed critic.

That said, I was pretty disappointed with “Notorious.” It’s true that we are talking about Hollywood, but the larger-than-life MC’s tale was woefully simplified.

Yes, the film is great for hip-hop and introducing one of the art form’s legends to new audiences. That it got green-lit by a mega studio says a lot of about a music that was branded “trash” and a mere fad less by doubters than 30 years ago.

But none of that should force viewers to hold their tongues about pitiful acting (Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur actually walks into a party saying, “What’s up? I’m Tupac”) or little insight into the mind of one of the genre’s greatest lyricists and storytellers.

There’s not time for everything, but we needed to find out a little more about what made Biggie spew lines like, “F--- the world, f--- my moms and my girl/My life is played out like a jheri curl, I’m ready to die.”

Anyone who’s listened to enough hip-hop will tell you such a menacing, yet self-deprecating line wasn’t uttered just for show. Not in 1993, anyway.

Instead of getting to the bottom of it, we’re left to believe that Christopher Wallace’s life was the same as any other rags-to-riches, hood-to-stardom story. Producers brought little, if any, of his story’s uniqueness to life besides the fact that he was darker and heavier than the average rap star.

The film even managed to make Lil’ Kim appear oversexed, which is as tough a feat as making LeBron James look underpaid. Yet, there’s the Queen Bee’s character, played by Naturi Naughton, in the bed with Big, while his eventual wife Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) and daughter’s mother Jan (Julia Pace Mitchell) are actually developed and presented as more than eye candy.

Jamal Woolard’s overall performance as Biggie was especially solid for a first-timer, but Derek Luke as Sean “Puffy” Combs is reduced to a dancing, catch-phrasing fool instead of the successful entrepreneur he was even 15 years ago. Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Violetta Wallace was OK, but her Jamaican accent sounded too forced. Rapper Jay-Z and producer Easy Mo Bee, both friends and instrumental to B.I.G.’s career, were mysteriously absent.

Bottom line, this movie should be reserved for those wanting a quick, 101-style education on The Notorious B.I.G. If you’ve followed his career, you might get a few moments of nostalgia (hearing “Juicy” and “Warning” will do that), but you’ll ultimately leave underwhelmed and out of $9.

- Brandon C. Baker

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March 25, 2009 at 2:19 AM 

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