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“Notorious”-{Blu-ray}- (2009)
Wayne Klein
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release Date:
Special Features:

Featurettes: “I’ve Got A Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls”, “Notorious Thugs: Casting The Film”, “Biggie Boot Camp”, “Anatomy of A B.I.G. Performance”, “Party and Bullsh*t”, “The B.I.G. Three Sixty” (virtual tour), “Behind the Scenes: The Making of ‘Notorious’”, two audio commentary tracks with writers Reggie Rock Blythewood & Cheo Hodari Coker; George Tillman, Jr.


Shortly before his murder Tupac wore a shirt in one photo that had “Thug Life” on it in big, bold letters. That accurately describes the type of rap that he and his East Coast rival the Notorious B.I.G. performed which glorified the criminal lifestyle and urban drama that surround them as they grew up. It also took their lives. The debate about who killed Christopher Wallace aka B.I.G. and Tu Pac and whether it grew out of their out-of-control increasingly violent rivalry (the two began as friends) is still open to debate. No one who is talking knows who killed these popular, talented entertainers except the men who were shot and their shooters. ***

Ultimately, “Notorious” gives us the “big” picture (pardon the pun) but truly fails in telling us about “Biggie” (his nick name)in any meaningful way. This is the type of biopic that I would have expected to see on a minor network shortly after the death of Biggie. As a comparison, this reminds me of all the Elvis and John Lennon biopics that got so much wrong and so little right that were made in the wake of their deaths. The few good ones (the TV movie “Elvis” directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell—where is that fellas?—being on eof the few examples of a nearly perfect biopic because of the strong direction AND performances). Perhaps it takes the distance of time to allow talent to tackle real life individuals with candor, wit and intelligence. “Notorious” has none of these things although some of the individuals performances are quite good they are overwhelmed by mediocre writing by Cheo Hodari Coker and Reggie Rock Blythewood and uninspired direction by George Tillman Jr. ***

“Notorious” gives us a series of snapshots of Wallace’s life and is as lasting as those snapshots. The images quickly fade because there isn’t enough content to truly do justice to the lives of these complex individuals. “Notorious” does little beyond glorifying the lifestyle that trapped Wallace and ultimately led to his death without giving us a clear cut understanding as to what drove him and the dangerous elements around him to snuff out one of the most creative forces in the rap community at the time. ***

Beginning with Wallace’s youth (Wallace’s son plays him as a boy) and moving on to when he truly found his “voice” (where rapper Jamal Woolard takes over in the role), “Notorious” is underwhelming because of a paint-by-numbers approach to the direction, dialog that sounds like it came out of a bad MTV movie and weak performances surrounding the main actors in the film. “Biggie” as he became known initially made an impression by selling crack on street corners as he expands his skills as a rapper trying to break free of the drug world that surrounds him. Although his mother (Angela Bassett in a solid performance where she has to turn sh*t into shinola with awful dialog that sounds like it was imported from a Lifetime TV movie)provided “Biggie” with the positive influence of a caring role model, the rap world mired in violence, drugs and insane rivalry of street gangs captures Biggie’s soul. Rather than becoming a chronicler of the damaging urban world around him he becomes a major player in that world. ***

Biggie gets busted, does his time and makes a demo that catches the eye of Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke)who immediately recognizes Biggie’s talent and signs him. Biggie almost ends up in prison again when he and a friend get busted on a weapons charge—his friend takes the fall to keep Biggie out of jail and allow him to pursue his music dreams. As he rises in the world of rap music, Biggie becomes friends and, later, a violent rival of Tupac (Anthony Mackie) and continually makes attempts to get his derailed life back on the tracks ultimately doing so just before his assassination. ---

Image & Sound:

The Blu-ray transfer looks surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because having viewed the DVD, I expected major issues with the transfer. Images are crisp, sharp and blacks solid througout the presentation. The Blu-ray truly comes to life however during darker sequences and night scenes with sharper resolution and detail evident when compared to the DVD. If you're going to buy this and have a Blu-ray player (or Playstation 3) go for the Blu-ray.

*** Audio isn’t bad with a decent 5.1 mix that focuses on dialog. Music sounds decent as well although it is compressed sounding. The 5.1 is nicely used during music scenes and the few bits of action in the film.

Special Features:

The most important extras here on disc one are two commentary tracks one with director Tillman and the second with the writers of the film & the film’s editor. Neither commentary track gives us any insight into what went wrong with the film. All four give us an idea as to the challenges they face in making the film and praise their performers when they capture the characters well. ***

“Behind the Scenes: The Making of NOTORIOUS” is nearly a half hour and provides us some insight into the challenge of making a biopic like this. “”ive Got A Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls” and “Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film” are pretty self explanatory featurettes. “Biggie Boot Camp” shows us the rehearsal portion of the film and is narrated by the director. It shows us how these individuals became the characters that they portray in the film focusing on this process of transformation. “Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film” again shows us the long, arduous process of finding actors who can inhabit the oversized shoes of celebrities. We also get a featurette on the shooting of the concert sequences, including an uncut performance and “The B.I/.G. Three-Sixty” which provides a virtual tour of the interaction of Wilshire and Fairfax (close to downtown Los Angeles) where Biggie was murdered. It’s pretty creepy. Things are rounded out by deleted/extended scenes as well as the trailers and the usual previews. ---

Final Words:

“Notorious” could have been a compelling movie with a stronger script and direction. Unfortunately, the director and his writers make the wrong (and often clichéd) choices to tell Biggie’s life story, the West Coast/East Coast Rap rivalry and his death which may or may not have been the result of that rivalry. Although some of the actors give inspired performances they are tied down by an uninspiring script that keeps them earthbound when they need to soar. If you must see this, I’d suggest a rental or, better yet, wait till it comes to basic cable.


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