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Movie Review: 'Dope'

The imperfect comedy Dope is still a laugh-out-loud good time.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director/Writer Rick Famuyiwa's Dope, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior who wants desperately to escape the gang-infested Inglewood for the success of Harvard. He's smart but dorky, ambitious yet mindful of the problems around him, loves 90's Hip-Hop, and dresses like he was transported out of a Kid n' Play video. His friends the 14% African-American Jib and the dike Diggy (Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) are also band mates and band geeks, jamming out after school to the disgust of the custodians. But Malcolm's life changes when he's invited to a club where the thug Dom (rapper A$ap Rocky) gets involved in a drug-related shootout, dumping his bricks of drugs and a weapon into Malcolm's backpack. Upon its discovery, Malcolm must decide whether to dump it, deliver it to AJ (Roger Smith), or the craziest idea: sell it.

Dope is hardcore funny, filled with enough Hip-Hop references and clothing to easily sustain itself. Add in the modern technology of "caught on iPhone" reporting, inexpensive home studios, and the N-word being thrown around like gang signs and you begin to see how quirky this is. That will be off-putting to those who can't stand the rather liberal use of the N-word these days, but it has so much energy, such a great soundtrack, and so many pop-culture references that it's hard to not like it. A lot. But it's also got a stirring message about the double standards in higher education, along with the way our society now expects things opened-handed and free. Experiences like these can devolve into a mess with no real meaning at the end, but luckily Dope escapes that...sort of.

My two biggest problems with Dope are its multiple endings (I think it would still be going on right now if it could), and the unfortunate decision by Malcolm to enter the drug trade. And while that's all deception, it's a big gamble on Famuyiwa's part that yields hilarious results while still ringing extremely inappropriate. Some kids will emerge from this a changed person, but others will go home to immediately research selling drugs on the Black Webs. I hope that's not Famuyiwa and Producer Forest Whitaker's intention, because the rest of the film works so well.

Moore does more than merely lead this cast, he is the heart and soul of it. Malcolm is the perfect kind of child for this new world, unwilling to allow his troubled environment dictate the path his life will take. Moore embodies Malcolm, taking Revolori and Clemons on his back as they get themselves into one harrowing situation after another, while philosophizing on who can use the N-word or arguing greatest labels of the 90's at a local record store. If only John Cusak could have made a High Fidelity cameo...

Famuyiwa's script is purposely self-reverential but also contains some amazing dialogue near the end as Malcolm writes his letter to Harvard. But it's also Famuyiwa the director who stitches all of it with great sequences and funny interludes, while giving his troupe the legs they need to run out their characters. Some don't fare so well, such as Malcolm's mother (Lisa Hayes), who provides zero leadership to her son. Some like A$ap are there long enough to play their pigeon-holed role before they disappear into the ether. But Zoe Kravitz plays another understated winner who also desires an escape but needs her GED first, thus enlisting Malcolm and eventually falling for him.

As the movement this year seems to be towards well-apportioned teen comedies (The DUFF and the gorgeous Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl), Dope can happily assume its place behind this pantheon of modern-age John Hughes/Cameron Crowe 80's classics. Minus its inability to actually end and the horrible decision to sell drugs (albeit to screw AJ), this one could have sat alongside The Breakfast Club and Better off Dead.

Dope is a funny, inventive, sometimes deep affair whose experience will largely depend on who sees it. Regardless of who that may be, its particular brand of comedy is infectious and might actually lead to the kinds of conversations with children that I think Whitaker and Famuyiwa are hoping for. Let's just hope that the legality of selling drugs to implicate another is not one of them.

Dope is rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence-all involving teens and has a runtime of 103 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Thomas Watson said…
The movie has a lot of messages or morals that is trying to get across to the audience.

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