Who's In It: Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Angela Bassett, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton
The Basics: The story of Notorious B.I.G. who was, along with Tupac Shakur, one of the best rappers of the 90s. Like a lot of artists, he was kind of a mess. He sold drugs--apparently even to a pregnant woman, defending his actions with "I'm no social worker."--and did time, got women pregnant, cheated on his wife Faith Evans, got into a seemingly pointless East Coast/West Coast feud with one-time friend Shakur, and also had an unmistakable vocal style that Sean Puffy Combs commercialized and built his empire around. And then he got murdered not long after Shakur's own drive-by death. After that, decent mainstream hip-hop in the 1990s went down the toilet. Okay, not if you count Wu-Tang.
What's The Deal: With the exception of I'm Not There, the musician biopic genre is the boring suburban cul-de-sac of cinema. There's nothing you don't know about them. They've all got the same structure, the same beats, the same conflicts, the same rise/success/cash/Billboard Chart montages, the same crisis/soul-search sequences. And then the death. Or Johnny Cash holding a bucket of chicken. Either way you're in for exactly the same stuff every single time, like a song on a radio you listen to over and over. You go see them because you want to see who plays what music-industry historical figure and speculate on which of them in real life is going to be pissed off about how they were portrayed. This time it's Lil' Kim, like you couldn't predict that either. So if you prefer Biggie to Johnny you'll go see this one and walk out thinking, "Yep, that's what happened alright." Not bad, but not amazing either.
Who Makes It Worth Seeing: Newcomer Jamal Woolard carries his screen time well and makes Wallace a more teddy-bearish and approachable figure than he most likely was in real life. And that's not a small task when you're asking the audience to get on board the sympathy train with a character that would sell crack to a pregnant woman and cause emotional pain to every single woman he got involved with. Newcomer Naturi Naughton goes for it as Lil' Kim, showing other actresses with no-nudity contract guarantees that sometimes your body IS your performance. And Biggie's own son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, plays him as a child. That alone is curiosity-making enough to want to check it out.
Famous Death Spot the Movie Highlights Twice: The corner of Fairfax and Wilshire in Los Angeles, right outside of the Peterson Automotive Museum, which is where he was gunned down. Possibly not as infamous yet as the spot where Hugh Grant picked up Divine Brown (it's on the weirder, more scandal-oriented tourist bus routes) or the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon where F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped dead, but this movie does its best to put it on the map.
Characters The Movie Leaves Out That I Wish Had Been Left In: They couldn't figure out a way to make this guy cross paths with Mary J. Blige or Jodeci? Because you know he did.