Mr. Movie

'Notorious' maybe in real life

Rap and hip hop’s first superstars were Tupac Shakur on the West Coast and Notorious B.I.G. on the East Coast.

The latter is Chris Wallace, a star so big he needed three nicknames -- Biggie Smalls, Big Poppa and Notorious B.I.G. The two hip hoppers were buds, and then they had a feud. According to Notorious, it was all a big misunderstanding.

Never have a mix-up with a gangsta. Guns and using them are very important to rap stars. Their feuds make the Hatfields and McCoys look peaceful. A little disrespect and shots get fired. People die.

But that’s not the point of Notorious. The film passes him off as just a nice, sometimes misunderstood, 6-foot-3, 300-to 380-pound star shambling through life trying to grow up and be a man.

Along the way he makes millions, fathers a couple of kids and has a bunch of affairs. To get Biggie Smalls to this image, Jamal Woolard plays him with a Fat Albert twist. All that’s missing is Bill Cosby’s famous “Hey, hey, hey!”

And B.I.G., like most music stars idolized in movies, is more unhappy than happy and dies young.

Most of us don’t know much about rap. More poetry than music, it rose from drug- and violence-filled ghetto streets on both coasts with an iambic pentameter that would impress Shakespeare. You aren’t going to learn much here.

The history of B.I.G. and his relationship with some of the best of early hip hop such as Tupac, Lil’ Kim, Sean “Puffy” Combs and others is fascinating. And the music is terrific. However, you never quite get past the feeling director that George Tillman Jr. and the two unknown film writers, one who has done only TV and another whose solo credits is writing an annual awards show, are burying you in minutiae and putting way too much of a positive spin on the life of a common thug.

Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars

Rated R for mature themes, violence, language, drugs use and nudity. It opens Friday, Jan. 16 at the Carmike 12.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.