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Stars: Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith, Julia Pace Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Dennis L A White, Aunjanue Ellis
Director: George Tillman Jr
Yet another re-telling of the events leading up to the Tupac Shakur/Biggie Smalls shootings of the late 1990s. this lavish, impressively-mounted big-screen package shines the spotlight squarely on the latter, a larger-than-life rapper who topped the charts at the height of his brief career.
Despite a fine college record and a caring mother (the reliably excellent Bassett), Christopher Wallace, as he was then still known (played by the rapper's real-life son) is soon on the street hustling and at 17 (now played by Woolard) a drug dealer few people want to mess with.
There's a girl (Mitchell) and a child, followed rapidly by a jail sentence. On release, Chris resumes his life of petty crime until, saved from a second prison term by a friend who takes the rap, he meets budding entrepreneur Sean 'Puffy' Combs (Luke), who encourages him to pursue a career in music.
Now called Biggie Smalls (alias the Notorious B.I.G.), Chris encounters both fame and another girl, Li'l Kim (diminutive dynamo Naughton, once of Destiny's Child) who becomes a rap star herself. Kim in her turn finds herself in the shadows when Chris pursues and marries Faith (Smith) and has two more children - before his gangsta roots come back to haunt him.
Woolard inhabits Chris' scabrous, life-grabbing, largely unsympathetic personality like a second skin, but it's hard to differentiate between some of the other characters involved, the workings of the feud that climaxes the story remain somewhat obscure, and the movie has little light and shade.
And, while it's nice to see Wallace Jr showing great promise as an actor, it's a pity that the kid is left-handed whereas Woolard isn't.
USA 2009. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Colour by deluxe.
122 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 2, Swearing 2.
Review date: 09 Feb 2009