If you thought 2008 was a bad year for movies, allow us to introduce you to 2009. Despite box office numbers through the roof, the overall quality of the films this year has been—how can we put this?—totally crappy. Suffice it to say, by the time December rolls around, you probably won’t find Duplicity and Paul Blart: Mall Cop jockeying for positions on critics’ top-ten lists. Still, we’d be lying if we said there weren’t a few bright spots: I Love You, Man and Adventureland were both equally touching and funny, even if they felt like retreads of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Squid and the Whale, respectively. And then there was Notorious. No, not the Alfred Hitchcock classic… we’re talking about the ridiculous biopic about Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Biggie Smalls. Released in January, the film hits DVD today (holy short window, Batman!) and of all the junk we’ve sat through thus far this year, it actually might be the best of the bunch. Crazy, we know. Here are three reasons why Notorious should jump to the top of your Netflix queue, post-haste.
The Outstanding Cast!
We’ll be the first to admit that Jamal Woolard is nothing more than a passive (and massive) blank slate as Biggie, but everyone surrounding him is so darn impressive that it doesn’t matter. There’s Anthony Mackie, bringing his staccato delivery and soulful gravitas to Tupac Shakur; Naturi Naughton and Antoinique Smith as Lil Kim and Faith Evans, both strong/needy/sexy and totally over-the-top (Ms. Naughton does Lil Kim proud by spending a majority of her screen time either naked, cursing or both); and Derek Luke in an MTV Movie Award-worthy performance as Puff Daddy. Mr. Luke, a talented actor who has been left to drift in bloated message pictures like Miracle at St. Anna, Lions for Lambs and Catch a Fire, is a livewire in Notorious. He might not look like Puff Daddy—though the wardrobe certainly helps—but he has the baseless bravado and clueless righteousness down cold.
The Freewheeling Tone!
Director George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food) keeps the movie humming along at a brisk pace by adding well-needed doses of levity throughout that never allow Notorious to take itself too seriously. Only a maudlin finale mars this, though it feels tacked on to justify Angela Bassett’s appearance as Biggie’s mother, Voletta, more than anything else.
The Best Line of the Year!
While we’re pretty sure (and pretty hopeful) that Notorious won’t end up on our top-ten list for 2009, we doubt any line of dialogue will beat this gem unfurled by Mr. Luke-as-Puffy, during his first meeting with Biggie: “I’m hungry. You put me butt-naked in the jungle, I’ll come out wearing a chinchilla hat and a leopard coat, ten pounds hungrier from eating them motherfuckers.” If that doesn’t make you want to see Notorious, we don’t know what will.