One of the most legendary figures in rap, The Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace) went from a tough life on the streets to stardom. "Notorious", the film version of Wallace's life, makes an attempt to get a deeper understanding of who the man was. Early on, the movie explores Christopher's childhood (he's played as a child by his son, Christopher Jordan Wallace), sitting on the steps writing lyrics, lured by the potential wealth of the drug trade.
Raised by his mother (Angela Bassett) after his father left, Christopher (Jamal Woolard) made money dealing drugs, but those he hang around with wanted to hear him rap and occasionally there were even those who challenged his skills on the mic. Still, his desire to choose the streets over schooling infuriated his mother, who came to the states from Jamaica in search of a better life.
Out on the streets after being kicked out for dealing, Christopher finds himself in jail and dealing with broken relationships with women before finally meeting up with Sean Combs/Puff Daddy (Derek Luke, but the actual Puff Daddy produced the picture, along with Christopher Wallace's mother), who signs the now Notorious B.I.G. to his label, launching his career and turning him into one of rap's biggest rising stars and a force for East Coast rap. He also gets into a relationship with fellow rapper Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) before marrying singer Faith Evans (Antonique Smith). Tragically, B.I.G. was attacked in LA in 1997 and passed away 10 days before the release of his second album.
"Notorious" does some things right: Woolard is quite good in his debut effort, offering a charismatic, compelling effort. Angela Bassett and Derek Luke also offer enjoyable supporting efforts. While the performances are quite good, the movie struggles with trying to find deeper insights about the life of the famed rapper - although the intent certainly seems to be to try and get a deeper understanding of Wallace, the movie often seems at least somewhat formulaic as it follows a checklist of episodes from the rapper's life. Additionally, director George Tillman's approach feels a little too straightforward. Additionally, a bit more intensity and energy could have helped - at 123 minutes, the picture has stretches that feel long.
Overall, "Notorious" isn't without its flaws, but Woolard's strong debut does make up for some of the film's issues.
The Blu-Ray edition offers both the unrated 129 minute "director's cut" and the 123-minute theatrical cut of the picture.
VIDEO: "Notorious" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.40:1 (1080p/AVC). Although short of excellence, the presentation is still a very satisfactory effort from the studio. Sharpness and detail can vary slightly at times, as while some scenes could look a bit soft, others could appear crystal clear, with good fine detail and decent depth to the image.
Some slight problems were spotted at times, including a few slight traces of noise and a few slight instances of edge enhancement. Otherwise, the print used appeared pristine, and no additional concerns were seen. The film's color palette varied, at times appearing subdued and cool, while other scenes showed a more rich, vivid palette. Colors looked spot-on, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: "Notorious" is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. The film's sound mix primarily uses the surrounds for reinforcement of the rap music, only occasionally using the rear speakers for minor ambience. As one might expect, the rap tunes come across sounding big and bold, with rich, deep bass beats. Dialogue sounded clean and well-recorded, with no distortion or other concerns.
EXTRAS: Two commentary tracks are offered: one from director George Tillman, writers Reggie Rock Blythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, and editor Dirk Westerfelt. The other commentary is from Christopher's mother Voletta and B.I.G.'s co-manager's Mark Pitts and Wayne Barrow. Both tracks provide a solid overview of the production as well as thoughts on Notorious B.I.G.'s life and career.
"Life after Death: Making Notorious" is a 27-minute "making of" documentary, with thoughts from director George Tillman, Voletta Wallace, the film's casting directors and other members of the cast and crew. We hear about the origins of the project, casting, how the actors tried to work on getting their performances of the real-life figures down, filming on location in NYC and much more. Overall, this documentary comes off as a bit dry, but thankfully, it's not promotional and provides some good interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. "I've Got A Story To Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls" is a 9-minute look into the rapper's writing skills and persona. "Notorious Thugs: Casting The Film" is a 9-minute piece that looks deeper into the topic of casting than the longer "making of" did.
More interesting is "Biggie Boot Camp", a 6-minute piece that highlights the intense rehearsal process the actors had to go through to get into their roles. "Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance" (5 minutes) also is pretty fascinating, as it looks into filming one of the concert sequences, comparing footage to real B.I.G. concert footage. "Party & Bulls**t" is an uncut version of an actual B.I.G. live performance. Finally, we get 10 deleted scenes and "The Music", a playlist feature for BD-Live-enabled players, where viewers can customize a playlist of songs and purchase them online, as well as see trivia.
Finally, the second disc offers a digital copy of the film that can be used on PCs, Macs or portable devices.
Final Thoughts: Woolard's strong debut in the title role carries "Notorious" only so far - while the movie has its moments, it feels formulaic and director Tillman's approach needed to be more bold. The Blu-Ray offers fine audio/video quality, as well as a lot of extras. A recommended rental.
The Film B-