Movie Review: 'Notorious'

Honestly, I was both excited and terrified to see Fox Searchlight's "Notorious," which hit theaters on Jan. 16. If the film was horribly bad, it could be disrespectful to Notorious B.I.G.'s legacy and make the road harder for future urban music-based films. I'm happy to say that the film was worth the decade it took for Bad Boy to produce it -- it's really good.

Jamal "Gravy" Woolard plays a charming B.I.G., who simultaneously loved his family and sold crack to pregnant women. While that may sound like two different people, remember that no person is one-dimensional. The film did a good job juxtaposing B.I.G.'s tender relationship with his mother, Ms. Wallace, his wife, Faith Evans, and his two children, in addition to his fickle relationship with his girlfriend/artist, Lil Kim and his determination in his music career.

Seeing B.I.G.'s transition from selling drugs in Brooklyn to drinking Cristal champagne on the cusp of releasing his second album, "Life After Death," wasn't anything new, but the authenticity was endearing. The consistency of scenes that were shot on Brooklyn's Fulton Avenue and St. James Avenues, where B.I.G. grew up, was a nod to the borough and to B.I.G.'s rabid fans.

Naturi Naughton, formerly of 3LW, played Lil Kim as a girl-next-door with questionable self-esteem and no problem taking off her clothes. It's no secret that the real Lil Kim isn't happy with the portrayal, but Naughton had the rapper's rhyme cadence and attitude down pat. In addition, Antonique Smith did a good turn as Evans, though Evans isn't nearly as small a woman as Smith. If Woolard gained almost 50 pounds for his role as Biggie, perhaps Smith could've eaten a little pasta and stopped exercising too?

Derek Luke as Puffy was both comical and convincing. Luke adapted Puffy's curly hair, signature shoulder dance and voracious tenacity for whatever he is doing. At one point in the film, Luke loudly proclaims that even if he was stranded in the jungle, he'd emerge with money.

Finally, Angela Bassett's portrayal of B.I.G.'s mother Voletta Wallace was the glue that kept the film together. Her involvement no doubt lent legitimacy, and Bassett did a lot to convey how much the real Ms. Wallace cared for her son and how close their relationship was. My only issue was Bassett's on-again-off-again Jamaican accent: Ms. Wallace is a woman born and raised in Jamaica and Bassett's depiction didn't reflect that.

Overall, "Notorious" is a good movie even if you've never heard of B.I.G. or ever danced to "Juicy." But, like any music-related film, if you're familiar with the songs that inspired it, you're going to love it, especially for the opportunity to rap along.