WIRTB Review: Notorious

(Ed. Note: This one is "dedicated" to the guy who made me do this one, @BMDontCheat)

I tried to be nice to this film mainly because Gravy looked like Biggie. No, seriously. That's one of the only reasons why. But, when I saw this film, back in 2009, it was like God told me "Speed, one of these days, you're going to rip this to shreds." And I looked up and said "shrug. Why not?"

Notorious, if you didn't know the story of Christopher George Latore Wallace, would have you believe that his rise-and-fall was this generic teledrama that looks and reads like people just went onto Biggie's Wiki page and pulled off some of the more well-known details about Biggie. That's what makes this film such a stinker. See, Biggie was a larger than life type of guy, even down to his real-life actions versus those of his Frank White persona. But, this film doesn't do that mythos justice. It's like someone said "hey, let's take the cliche moments in 8 Mile, put those into a blender, put some fat rapper into the mix, and pass it off as a Biggie biopic."

If you came into Notorious without knowing much about Biggie, you'd assume that he was this fat kid (played by his real-life son) who got picked on, grew up, blew up selling drugs and freestyling, then got shot up because he was a big deal in the music business. In other words, he'd seem like your average stereotypical street rapper versus one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

The supporting cast isn't much better. Everyone aside from, pretty much, his mother, Puffy, and Faith Evans were downplayed in the film.

From Naturi Naughton's Lil' Kim pretty much being there to be yet another sexy little sidechick Faith questioned (Kim was never really explored more than this) to Anthony Mackie's Tupac being portrayed as nothing more than a jealous asshole to Anwan "Big G" Glover not really even looking like Snoop or sounding like Snoop (like, at all), characters walked in and out of Biggie's life that should've been focused on more. For instance, where's Craig Mack? And why does he get the "unknown rapper" treatment in the film. Without Craig Mack's "Flava in Your Ear" remix, a lot of folks wouldn't have known who Biggie was. I'm not saying that Mack should've been a big character, but he was a major part of the early career of The Notorious B.I.G. Screw it, the entire Junior M.A.F.I.A. is reduced, pretty much, to seven or eight lines from Cease and a couple crotch shots from Kim.

Additionally, those who were part of his life in a major way, per the movie, they were either toned down story-wise or ramped up for some sort of a faux "emotional connection." Derek Luke's Puffy was made out to be a patron saint compared to everyone else in the film. I guess that's what happens when your writing staff decides to get most of their info from Biggie's mom. Now, let it be known. Voletta Wallace is a great woman. However, for a film of this magnitude, you're going to need more than your main subject's mama helping with the authenticity. Otherwise, you're going to get characters that feel wooden, situations that feel wooden when they should be lively, and dialogue that feels...off.

The dialogue reads like some high schoolers got together in their parents' basement, had a fake studio set up, and decided to go all Home Movies and film themselves a Biggie biopic mixed with the uneven portions of Juno. Squigglevision, folk rock, and all. Except, you know, at least Brendon Small and his team would've both fact checked as much as they could've and...well, made a compelling biopic about a legendary artist.

Hell, at least Diablo Cody knew/knows when to mix drama and comedy to create a pretty realistic look in on her characters. Even when it felt a bit uneven, there was either a realistically funny or a quirky moment that shone more light onto her characters.

For instance, let's break a bit and talk Juno.

Juno, almost ten years later, is still a classic film (dated, in some ways, but classic) to me. The characters felt realistic, even though they were literally characters Cody dreamed up to get her voice out there versus people playing real icons. You felt things for Juno and Paulie. Whether those things were love or eyebrows raising is beside the point. You still felt things for and about them. It probably also helped that Ellen Page was a better actress than most of the entire Notorious cast put together. But, it's an unfair comparison since Juno was a different type of film.

So, let's look at Straight Outta Compton. 

Your cast was lively and realistic. The dialogue was equal parts witty and "let's just tell it how it is/how it may be." The pacing wasn't all over the place, bouncing around like a kid coming down from a sugar high. You were able to suspend reality and see Jason Mitchell as Eazy (even if he wasn't a straight-up clone of Eazy how Gravy and Biggie kind of are/were). And, like in Juno, probably because of the well-roundedness of everything, you felt things for Cube, Eazy, and the rest of the gang.

But here? Nah. Everyone's a cutout. Even the "fleshed-out" characters feel like they belong in a Lifetime movie. You won't go back to Notorious ten minutes later, much less a whole decade later, and say "well, damn. This is a solid, classic look into the life of one of my favorite rappers." You'll just shake your head at the potential.

I feel it also falls on the director, in addition to the writing/research staff. See, George Tillman Jr. is a competent director. But many of his films--yes, even including the vaunted Soul Food--they suffer from teledrama elements that just scream "oh, this is made for TV" even when it shouldn't be.

You can almost feel when a commercial break's coming in Notorious. I halfway expected a narrator to start spewing crap like "Oh boy, how will Biggie get out of this? Tune in next week to find out." A biopic on a classic hip-hop artist shouldn't have that feeling. Hell, a movie about anything that's supposed to be accepted as a good film isn't supposed to have that element of "let's pause for a commercial break here."

Could I have done a better job scripting this? With some research and the like, maybe. But, this isn't about me. It's about Notorious as it stands.

So, was it really that bad? If you look at it like a dark comedy about a rapper that's a proxy for Biggie versus a serious movie about the life and death of someone who's supposed to be Biggie, no. If you go in expecting cornball moments that should make you cry but make you laugh, you'll be fine. However, if you go into this flick expecting to learn something you didn't know about Biggie (or to get more motives behind his music), you'd probably be best fitted watching a documentary on Biggie. Hell, Tupac: Resurrection did a better job talking about Biggie than this film.

All in all, its Lifetime Movie of the Week presentation mixed in with its unbelievable characters and stilted dialogue make this film yet another sacrifice to the WIRTB Gods in an effort to make sure this Pac movie is better. But, with Gravy playing Biggie again (apparently), I don't know. May have the same curse. We'll see...if it ever gets made, that is.

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