Brooklyn rapper Christopher Wallace—aka Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G.—was already an icon when he was gunned down at age 24 in a 1997 drive-by in Los Angeles. This engrossing biopic, throbbing with style and attitude, will likely add to his legend. Produced by his mother, Voletta Wallace (who’s played by Angela Bassett), and his show business mentor, Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke), the movie is frank about Biggie—the drug dealing, jail time, womanizing, and angry outbursts—but emphasizes his humanity. In a memorable debut, Jamal Woolard portrays Wallace as a well-bred student turned streetwise entrepreneur with unerring commercial instincts. Director George Tillman Jr. sidesteps speculation about Wallace’s unsolved murder, focusing instead on the way rap defined his generation. With Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur and the high-voltage Naturi Naughton as Lil’ Kim. R, 123 min.
R • 2009