Soul Food director George Tillman Jr. helms this Hip Hop biopic based on the rise and untimely demise of Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G.), tracing his early days as a corner dealer to his relationship with Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke) and Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). Watching newcomer Jamal Woolard valiantly attempt to fill the big man’s shoes inspires sadness (at the loss) and a sense of being underwhelmed by the proceedings.
Biggie achieved legendary status for his microphone technique but released only two full-length recordings, and beyond the music game, he was a drug dealer — a game that doesn’t exactly track statistics as a means of defining rank.
If his chief music rival was indeed Shakur — the film explores their connection without much conviction — then it could be argued that Tupac — who besides rapping was a more charismatic figure and already applying his charms outside beats and rhymes — and not Biggie is more deserving of the big-screen treatment.
Biggie’s dramas come across as rather soapy, along the lines of Desperate Housewives or, in his case, Desperate Babymamas. Yet Tillman and his screenwriters (Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker) fashion a narrative that approximates the feel of not just the desperation but also the triumph of Biggie over his circumstances and the somewhat rosy hope that he might have actually found a measure of peace before achieving his final notoriety. Grade: C
Opens Jan. 16. Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.