Movie Review: Dope (2015)

Posted: December 2, 2015 in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , , ,


High school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is growing up in The Bottoms, a rough section of Inglewood, California.  Malcolm doesn’t fit in, he gets good grades, wants to go to Harvard, he loves 90’s hip hop, and plays in a punk band named Oreo, with his friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib. (Tony Revolori) Malcom has a crush on the unattainable Nakia, (Zoe Kravitz) who is also drawing interest from Dom, (Rakim Meyers) the local drug dealer.  When Malcolm finds out Dom has invited Nakia to his birthday party, he and his friends crash.  A rival gang crashes the party, gunplay ensues, Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib escape harm, and Malcolm saves Nakia from harm.  But in the melee, Malcolm doesn’t notice that Dom has put bags of the drug Molly into his bag.  Now, he has the drugs, Dom, a rival drug dealer and the DEA are all on Malcolm’s trail. What does he do?

I wanted to like this movie, I really like the three main characters, and there are a lot of laughs early on, but here’s the problem, it tries to be book smart, and street smart at the same time.  It goes up to the edge of saying something profound, that anyone can get caught up in the drug culture, and it can have devastating consequences, but then backs away from that conclusion, and tacks on a typical Hollywood ending.  Here’s another thing I didn’t like.  The double standard: Drug use by white people is shown as fun, and consequence free, ‘We’re having a rave, let’s have some Molly.’ Drug use and selling by black people results in jail time, and public urination, no fun there.  Unfortunately, Dope ends up reinforcing many of the stereotypes it tries so strenuously to avoid, so honestly despite all the hype, and some big name African-American producers, the resulting movie is not that different than Colors or Boyz in The Hood.  It also reminds me of a more violent version of the “House Party” movies of the 90’s. The movie could have been written a lot differently, with a lot of the same elements, and been a better movie.

The romantic storyline falls flat.  Why would a girl like Nakia fall for a geek like Malcom?  Studying for the GED is not good enough of a reason for me, and she doesn’t seem to be all that interested in him to begin with.  Lilly was probably the most ill-conceived, poorly written character in the movie, and a few scenes of gratuitous nudity and she was gone. It was terrible writing.

Shameik Moore is outstanding is the geeky Malcolm who has to negotiate a rough road just to have a shot at Harvard, he handles both the light comedic moments and serious aspects of the roll with equal skill. Kiersey Clemons was also very good as Diggy, handled herself well in a complex role.  Her militancy about who gets to use the n-word was funny. Tony Revolori was also very funny as Jib, always trying to fit in, getting strange looks from the others in the neighborhood.  He was also very good in The Grand Budapet Hotel. Zoe Kravitz looks and sounds a little too much like Lisa Bonet for comfort, and she doesn’t have the acting chops to pull off the heavy dramatic scenes. I actually felt sorry for Chanel Iman, that’s how badly written her role was, she was used for her looks and disposed of just as quickly.

The direction from a technical standpoint is great.  The cinematography is bright and inviting, and the pacing is good and quick, Rick Famuyiwa gets good performances from the three leads, the music is well placed and evocative of the late 80’s and early 90’s era hip hop. But writer Famuyiwa sabotages director Famuyiwa with a script that could have been much better than it was.

Parents: Be warned there’s a lot of nudity in this movie, so don’t watch it with kids, it’s rated R for a reason.

Dope:  Tries to be funky, fly, fresh, but isn’t.


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