A sensation at the Sundance Film Festival where it was picked up by Open Road, writer-director Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope might seem on the surface to be another knockoff of a typical urban-themed teen movie infused with drugs, rap, gangs, etc. Even though those elements are present here, you would be sooooooooo wrong. Dazzling, smart, fresh and original like no one’s business, this unique coming-of-age comedy pops off the screen and bursts with energy. It left me hoping it wouldn’t end because as I say in my video review above, I really liked spending time with these kids. They aren’t stereotypes, and that alone is a triumph.
The premise is hilarious: Even though he lives in a tough, poor neighborhood in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore, a real find), along with his buddies Jib (Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), are really old fashioned geeks. They like ’90s hip-hop and even have their own punk band. On top of that they get good grades and want to go to college. This kind of behavior in the particular culture that surrounds them in a ‘hood filled with gangbangers, dealers, etc., doesn’t go down well and they are the target of bullies.
Malcolm is singled out by one dealer, Dom, to act as his liaison in attracting a beautiful girl Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) on whom he also has a crush. So by chance he finds himself at a party that turns violent with gunfire when a drug deal goes bad. Escaping from that with her, he later discovers Dom, who winds up doing jail time, has hidden $100,000 worth of Ecstasy in his backpack. Yikes. He freaks out to his buddies, wondering how he can unload this stuff before he’s targeted by the bad guys after it. What to do for a guy who is normally just worrying about scoring on his SATs and getting admitted to Harvard ? Well, they decide to sell it themselves and this leads to a lot of comical situations as Malcolm winds up on the hit list.
Dope is on my hit list, a movie with a terrific cast right down the line to its narrator Forest Whitaker, who is also a producer with Nina Lang Bongiovi. There’s a great soundtrack too with new songs from Pharrell Williams and others. Famuyiwa also fills the screen with inventive directorial touches that keeps this thing humming along at a frenetic pace that somehow never wears out its welcome. But beware: his script makes liberal (to say the least) use of the ‘N’ word, so much in fact that it brings attention to itself, and there is even a scene that satirizes the use of it. It’s so over the top it’s obviously in there to make a point.
Any way you slice it, Dope is a summer must. Do you plan to see it? Let us know what you think.