Poppa goes the weasel 


Notorious (R)

Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

Ummm, Biggie Smalls' mother produced this movie? And Biggie Smalls' own son stars as the little Biggie? And Sean "Puffy" Combs, Biggie's pal, onetime producer and fellow rapper, helped produce it? Really?

Notorious gives new meaning to the word hagiography. Now, Notorious B.I.G. real name: Christopher Wallace (played as an adult by Brooklyn rapper Jamal Woolard) was no saint, just a regular kid trying to find his way on the streets of Brooklyn in the early '90s.

"In the beginning, God gave me a clean slate," Biggie narrates for us from beyond the grave ...

But he fell from grace, see. He was a good student, but had to become a drug dealer at age 12 to survive. Well, not actually to survive, but to be cool. Punk-ass teachers and garbagemen make bullshit $25,000 a year. Dealing crack to pregnant women was just part of the job, something a guy had to do to get ahead ... until that guy discovered a knack for encapsulating his violent, misogynistic world in spoken-word "songs" that speak to his violent-misogynist contemporaries.

"Drug dealing was like my wife," Biggie tells us cheerfully. "Rap was just some chick on the side." And there it is, a snapshot of Biggie's ideas about women. Fathering a baby while still technically in high school, breaking up with the mother and ignoring the child is only the beginning.

It's interesting: We're used to the typical music biopic being about a guy's slide from decent person to womanizing, drug-soaked jerk, but Biggie started out that way. In Notorious, he's so wildly uncharming and unappealing that it's hard to imagine what any female saw in him even after he got rich and famous. The movie might have made an effort to explain Biggie's appeal, for women or for music fans, instead of assuming it was a given.

And there's little reflection on Biggie's part, though the movie imagines him speaking from a place where he should have hindsight. I might have expected some hint of irony about how Biggie got off the streets by selling the streets right back to the streets. But then again, he never really got off the streets at all. He even carried a gun into the recording studio.

As you're probably aware, if you pay the slightest bit of attention to pop culture, Biggie was gunned down in 1997 at the age of 24 in Los Angeles, a casualty of the bizarre East Coast/West Coast rapper "war" that involved actual gunfire. But instead of striving for any understanding of why American black pop culture seemed destined for such tragedy, or exploring how men such as Christopher Wallace came to be victims of their own excesses, filmmaker George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor) moves instead to place a halo on the rapper's head.

We're told he would surely have metamorphosed into a kinder, gentler person if only given half a chance. Indeed, if he was not merely a vicious thug who got lucky enough to make a fortune, there's little evidence of it here beyond wishful thinking.

A far-too-premature biopic that is way too close to its subject matter for any hint of objectivity, and is far too forgiving? Well, I guess that's what you ought to expect from the dude's mother.



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