‘Notorious’ is co-produced by Smalls’s mother, Voletta Wallace, with exec producer Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs looming large over proceedings. What’s surprising is how willing they are to showcase the darker side of Biggie’s personality: he’s a womaniser, willing to sell crack to a pregnant woman, ignore his children and attack his wife. An unconvincing third act redemption aside, this is a warts-and-all portrait.
But in every other aspect, ‘Notorious’ is exactly the film its pedigree would suggest. It checks off all the gangsta rap boxes: first street battle, first arrest, first live show. It’s directed in drab fashion and its characters are left unexplored: Voletta is the archetypal long-suffering saint, with Diddy as the reliable businessman keeping his charge on an even keel. And when it comes to the issue of commerce, the filmmakers try to have their cake and eat it, filling the screen with an orgy of hot cars and free-flowing Moët while still attempting to convince their audience that money ain’t everything.