Film Review: Can't Stop Won't Stop: A Bad Boy Story

Behind-the-scenes look at a Bad Boy Entertainment reunion is a vanity project strictly for the fans.
Specialty Releases

Sean P. Diddy Combs, or Sean Puff Daddy Combs, or Sean Diddy Combs, or Diddy, or Puff Daddy, or Puff, or…anyway, that guy, is nearly 50 years old. His shoulder might be troubling him and his waist may have thickened a bit, but the rapper, producer and born showman has lost little of that hubris which helped him parley an unpaid internship into a vice presidency at Uptown Records while he was still in his early 20s. The intervening years have provided him with ample excuses to self-aggrandize, both legitimate and otherwise. The fact that his Bad Boy record label did, in fact, house some of hip-hop’s most influential artists makes the subject of this documentarya reunion of Bad Boy artists from the ’90s—well worthwhile. But with the knowingly self-promotional Diddy as star and producer, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story is little more than an extended, albeit attractive, commercial with high production values.

When the doc opens, we have just weeks to go before Diddy and several of the artists first signed to his Bad Boy label stage several reunion shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The second of these shows is set for the birthday of slain Bad Boy rapper Biggie Smalls, a close friend of Diddy’s and arguably the label’s most iconic artist. While Diddy plans and rehearses for the gigs, with considerable help from his right-hand woman, Lauriann Gibson (children of the early aughts might remember beleaguered Laurieann from the MTV show “Making the Band”), the doc recounts the story of his personal rise and that of Bad Boy Entertainment. Interviews with such heavyweights as Nas, Jay-Z and Clive Davis lend additional star power, if not much insight, to the proceedings, whose cast also includes Bad Boy artists Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim, Ma$e and Faith Evans, among others.

Helmed by first-time director Daniel Kaufman, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is sleeker and shinier than one of those oversized coats Diddy and Ma$e wore in the 1997 music-video for “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems.” Sometimes shot in black-and-white, sometimes in color, the film is always richly lit, staged, saturated. There’s little that feels candid or off-the cuff, including those “intimate” moments likely intended to make viewers feel close to the man: Diddy receiving a shot in his buttocks, for example, or blowing his stuffy nose into a tissue conspicuously decorated with a dollar-bill pattern.

The glossy production seems extraordinarily apt for a man who is wont to make the bad and the ugly in his life appear to serve the “greater good” with the same efficacy as the truly good. When, for example, he speaks about his shortcomings or mistakes—such as assaulting a record exec—he’s apt to rationalize, then philosophize. “I didn’t understand corporate culture,” he says of the violent incident. Soon afterward, “I was just fighting for black artists,” as he was doing when performing rather more innocuous tasks of production and promotion.  Questionable acts or treatment are all interpreted like his successes to serve the narrative of a maverick genius.

What Can’t Stop Won’t Stop does best is take fans on a smooth and untaxing nostalgia trip. Watching Biggie’s childhood friend walk down the Bed-Stuy street on which the rapper grew up, pointing out Biggie’s brownstone, giving up the address of Lil’ Kim’s childhood home, is a treat for those who have a hunger, or even a developed taste, for the offering. And few can deny that watching archival footage of a 17-year-old Biggie rapping on the street is anything but cool.

Insights into, revelations concerning, or thoughtful analysis of the Bad Boy legacy, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop does not provide. But if you’re simply excited to see several of your childhood heroes in the same room again or hear them reminisce about music you love, the doc abides. One could also see the slick film appealing to younger viewers only beginning to learn about hip-hop. For an aging entertainer so concerned with his legacy, that might be the sweetest sort of music to Diddy’s ears.

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