Suppressing my inner cheapskate, I dropped $11 at the Metreon last night to go see Notorious, The Notorious B.I.G. biopic that just came out for no apparent reason.  I've been aware of the film for longer than most because part of it (a very short chase scene, as it turns out) was filmed on my old block in Brooklyn (check out the link for more than you ever wanted to know about the Franklin Ave. shuttle, a relic of an MTA gone by that makes a brief cameo), much to my delight and that of my Prospect Heights neighbors.  The imagery of Brooklyn, my lover from another lifetime, was unfortunately the best part of my Notorious experience.  The street footage of Bed-Stuy-do-or-die is authentic; I could pretty much smell the familiar KFC refuse and blunt smoke every time the camera landed on the intersection of Fulton and St. James. The problem I had with Notorious, though, was in locating its relevance, its right-now-ness, its currency.  Yes, a decade has passed, and maybe that's the standard waiting period between untimely death and elegaic biopic.  But--and I think it's important to note that I never struggled with this in listening to Ready to Die or Life After Death--the overwhelming clunkiness of the movie made it hard to discern what was so special or unique or compelling about Biggie's story, what distinguished him from all the other rags-to-riches hip-hopward mobility stories.  Unfortunately, I'm inclined to believe the film was less a result of a burning public desire to know more about the rapper (a desire that, either way, it didn't fulfill) and more a result of Puffy (both an executive producer of and a character in the film--tres gauche, P. Dids, or whatever the hell we're supposed to call you now) wanting another minute in the spotlight on Biggie's wide-waisted coattails.  The film illuminates nothing new, for instance, about the East Coast/West Coast feud catalyzed first by Tupac and Biggie, and I found myself wishing the script would pick a side, or better, make a defensible argument about How It Really Happened. Wallace's mother, Voletta, also played a producing role, which probably didn't help any with things like, you know, objectivity or hard truths.

The actors' performances were relatively valiant, I thought, in light of the painfulness of the script ("We can't change the world until we change ourselves"?!  Really?  How?).  As the title character, Jamal Woolard is a far superior rapper than actor, and I suppose if director George Tillman, Jr. had to choose which skill to prioritize in casting, he picked the right one.  Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace disappointed me mostly with her confused, sporadic Jamaican accent--a shortcoming I have to believe came from poor directing, considering how reliably capable Bassett usually is.  She does, however, get to deliver the best line in the movie: "What kinda grown-ass man calls himself Puffy?"  That said, Anthony Mackie and Derek Luke look absolutely nothing like Tupac and Puffy, and I couldn't really get past it.  My favorite performance, though, was Naturi Naughton as Lil' Kim--Naughton captures not just Kim's hardened foul-mouthery but the irrepressible quality in her lyric delivery; when Naughton's Kim drops her first rhyme for Woolard's Biggie, you believe her.

The storytelling of the movie, unlike that of its lyrics, is generic, obvious, plodding, and featherweight.  Do we really need two shots of a fallen fedora in the street to mourn cinematographically the loss of B.I.G.?  Notorious's reliance on narrative cliche, the rose-colored sheen with which it eulogizes its fallen hero, makes it hard to find the hard nuggets of character amidst all the bullshit (and party, and bullshit, and party).  Lacking the film's, my argument is this: wait a few months, save the cash, and rent it.