It seems kind of gruesome, but if you're a celebrity, the length of your life and how recently you lived can have a direct effect on your biopic. In the case of the great rap star The Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. Christopher Wallace) his all-too-brief 24 years of life on this earth do not require too much editing and compressing to fit into a two-hour movie. Unfortunately, since he died as recently as 1997, most of the people involved in his life are still around to offer -- or require -- input into the movie. Hence, the first half of Notorious is a vibrant tribute to its subject and the second half is a kind of housecleaning, making sure that Biggie is laid to rest, cinematically speaking, with a clean slate.

Newcomer Jamal Woolard plays Biggie as an adult, and it's as if he were born to the part. It's almost possible to forget you're watching an actor and to believe that this is the real man playing his own life, as Eminem and 50 Cent played theirs. Biggie lives in Brooklyn under the wing of his overprotective, Jamaican-born mom (Angela Bassett). He's smart but a bad student and eventually moves into the neighborhood drug trade (though he never partakes of his product). He impregnates his girlfriend, goes to jail and fills several notebooks with his unique brand of literate, jovial, fast-paced rhymes. He meets Puff Daddy (Derek Luke), an up-and-coming producer who has an idea for a record called "Juicy." Meanwhile, he discovers -- and sleeps with -- the sexy Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) and meets and marries his true love, Faith (Antonique Smith).