Christopher George Latore Wallace lived fast, died young, and left a very big corpse. He started dealing drugs as a young kid in Brooklyn, went to prison, and was killed at age 24 in a gang-style shooting that is still unsolved. What makes him worthy of a biopic is that in between all of this he made two rap albums as Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G. that were and continue to be enormously successful.
This movie will inevitably come up short when compared to documentaries like the one about the similarly brief life of the far more prolific rapper Tupac Shakur or full-scale Hollywood biopics like “Ray” and “Walk the Line.” It is produced by Wallace’s biggest promoters, his mother and impresario Sean Combs, who was then known as Puff Daddy and it has the soft edges of a hagiography. And its star, newcomer Jamal Woolard, evokes Biggie’s flattish affect without making the story’s main character particularly dynamic. The film benefits from very strong performances by the supporting cast, including Angela Bassett as Wallace’s mother, Derek Luke as Combs, Naturi Naughton as protege/girlfriend Li’l Kim, Anthony Makie as Shakur, and Antonique Smith as his wife, Faith Evans. But there is not enough in it to engage anyone who is not already a knowledgeable fan. It does not provide any context about why Wallace was different or important or how his experience informed his lyrics or what it was about his performances that connected with such a wide audience. It does not explore the notion of authenticity and “keeping it real” and the inability to understand how legitimate success was different by almost everyone but Puff Daddy that made the tragic outcomes almost inevitable. It is superficial and overly commercial, something the really Biggie never was.