Once more, with not much feeling, the biopic formula infects a celebrity's life. Notorious reduces the career and death of Biggie Smalls. The year 1997 wasn't so long ago that it's forgotten, even if it isn't often considered. But Notorious has no feel for the 1990s. This distinctive point in rap history (when east side/west side conflict became a news item) is told without sense of time and place. The scenes in Brooklyn have no separate flavour from the scenes in LA.
On occasion, director George Tillman Jr. tries giving the Notorious B.I.G.'s thirst for success the rush of Ready to Die track "Gimme the Loot." But there's a difference between a rapper dramatizing social experience on record with morally removed flair, and a filmmaker treating someone else's life with the same detachment.
Except for hard-earned scenes between Biggie and his mother, played with powerful resolve by Angela Bassett, the movie adheres to cliche. It never brings Biggie's dreams and demons to life by going dark enough. Too often, the script burns legitimacy by using song lyrics and titles as regular lines of dialogue. The moment where Lil' Kim calls him "Big Poppa" finds its equal when Biggie states "Mo money, mo problems," tying the philosophy to his posthumous hit.
Notorious rarely seeks an artistic pulse beyond a Behind the Music rundown of facts.