George Tillman Jr.
Flash back to Brooklyn, mid-’80s to early ‘90s. At 17, Christopher Wallace, son of a dear, religious Jamaican immigrant (Angela Bassett), starts carrying a pistol and dealing “pharmaceuticals” (that is, crack) to earn his Nikes (the street cred is bonus). He faces jail time, is saved by a good friend, becomes entangled in rocky relationships, records one of the genre’s greatest achievements (Ready to Die), basks in the luxuries of fame, and so on…
It’s all true, but it’s also all cliché. Of course, the filmmakers can’t be blamed for that, and neither can Biggie. Where the filmmakers--director George Tillman, Jr. and co-screenwriters Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker--can take fault is not recognizing that his story--at least variations of it--have been told dozens of times before in the form of Jim Morrison, Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, and others. Only difference is, the story has never seemed so glamorous and its subject so gifted.
If there’s a saving grace to Notorious, it’s Jamal Woolard, who is so much a ringer for the late Biggie--especially behind sunglasses--that, when he was spotted by Voletta Wallace (Biggie’s mother, also producer and consultant), she gasped and said, “That’s Christopher.” And he is. From the talk to the walk, Woolard (who also raps under the moniker “Gravy“) embodies both Christopher Wallace and The Notorious B.I.G. with no fault.
The rest of the cast, it should be noted, don’t look the parts, but at least boast the arrogance of their real-life counterparts. Role call: Derek Luke as friend/Bad Boy Records founder Sean “Puffy” Combs (also producer, which may explain the utter shallowness of the project); Naturi Naughton as protégé/lover Lil’ Kim; Antonique Smith as wife Faith Evans; and Anthony Mackie as adversary in the famed East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry Tupac Shakur.
There is a specific paradigm for these Rise and Fall music biopics, and it’s followed very closely here by Combs and company, who refuse to offer any insight into Christopher Wallace--except that he apparently laid down his first single, ‘Juicy,’ on a diet of Pepsi, weed, and women. Now there’s a factoid you won’t find on Wikipedia.
Commentary with Director George Tillman, Jr., Co-Screenwriters Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, and Editor Dirk Westervelt: The quartet offers a detailed track full of background information regarding both Notorious and Biggie.
Commentary with Producer/Biggie’s Mom Voletta Wallace, Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Wayne Barrow, and Producer/Biggie’s Co-Manager Mark Pitts: Since all three commentators knew Biggie personally, this is a much more intimate track. The trio, like the other commentary, discuss the production and its inspiration.
Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of Notorious (27:32) uses interviews and behind-the-scenes footage to detail the casting process, shooting on-location, props, wardrobe, and more. More extensive than your standard BTS featurette.
I Got a Story to Tell: The Lyrics of Biggie Smalls (9:32) features interviewees sharing their love for Biggie, reflecting on his epic persona, sense of humor, and skill for storytelling and rapping.
Notorious Thugs: Casting the Film (9:05) is a wasteful extension of one of the segments in the previous BTS featurette.
Biggie Boot Camp (6:48): This piece takes a look at the cast’s three-to-four month preparation for Notorious, with almost exclusive focus on Woolard‘s training in acting, rapping, and choreography.
Anatomy of a B.I.G. Performance (5:15) examines how the crew created the atmosphere of one of the concert scenes by studying actual footage of The Notorious B.I.G.
Party & Bullshit (3:43) offers rare concert footage of Biggie and Puffy that the crew recreated in the film.
The B.I.G. Three-Sixty is an interactive feature that takes the viewer even deeper into the making of Notorious, specifically Biggie’s murder sequence.
Deleted Scenes (12:15): There are 10 here, either extended or discarded. Unfortunately for fans, none delve any deeper into the story.
The sole feature here is the Digital Copy.