‘Dope:’ Movie Review

July 3, 2015 0 Comments

I remember seeing the trailer for this film in the movie theater, which coincidentally looked very little like the actual movie.

That was probably a very good thing, because you don’t want to ruin too much about the movie. I think the fact that you have a film, with a setting in Los Angeles centering around a poor black kid who is not trapped in the gang-banging lifestyle may throw some people off. There is still that small reference to narcotics, which is what the movie ‘Dope’ is all about.

Still of Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, and Kiersey Clemons

Dope features a young man by the name of Malcolm (Shameik Moore), who possesses ever single young black male cliche in the Census Bureau statistics. He’s black, supported by a single working mother (Kimberly Elise), and his father abandoned them at a young age, but don’t worry. He’s not in prison or anything. He just decided to go back to Africa (why anyone would elect to go there to live is beyond me). He is super smart and has nearly perfect SAT scores. For all intensive purposes, he is a geek.

He has geek friends, called Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and they’re all about ‘white stuff.’ No, I don’t mean day trading. I mean other white stuff, such immersing themselves in 90’s culture, listening to 90’s hip-hop, getting good grades, BMX biking and listening to rock n’ roll. They even have their own Punk band. Naturally, being the whitest of all people while being in the blackest of all neighborhoods in Los Angeles regularly gets them picked on by gang-bangers, jocks and drug dealers.

One day, his entire life changes when he makes small talk with a drug dealer by the name of Dom, played by A$AP Rocky (and no, I’m not putting it in bold because its not a real name). Dom decides to use Malcolm to relay messages to his ex girlfriend, Nakia, played by Zoe Kravitz (Divergent, Mad Max: Fury Road, etc), and convince her to attend Dom’s birthday party. After a bunch of hilarious “Kill The Messenger” moments, Nakia gives in and decides to go out with Dom, but only if Malcolm is going to be there. From that moment on, Malcolm is pretty much head over heals for Nakia.

Still of A$AP Rocky As Dom

Malcolm, and friends, who is not exactly invited to the birthday bash, decide to attend anyway. After all, if an attractive girl is offering to save you a dance, you’d be a fool to pass it up. They get in with the assistance of Dom, who ends up beating the crap out of someone who dared to tell him no on his birthday, while explaining the sudden nuances of the ‘Slippery Slope.’

While the party is very much a party, there is another party going on in the back, which involves a drug deal. The drug deal goes bad when it turns into a gun fight, which gets even worse when a rival drug cartel decide to join the fight. Malcolm scores major cool points with Nakia by rushing her safety.

An average night, in which Malcolm is probably masturbating to some adult pornography on his cellphone, turned out to be better than he expected. Malcolm got a chance to have fun with his friends and dance with the girl of his dreams, possibly having a chance to see her some more to help her obtain her GED. It seemed Malcolm is on cloud nine, until he discovered the $100,000 worth of ecstasy in his bag.

What options does Malcolm have now? Does he ditch the molly, give it back to the drug dealers or turn it into the cops? The rest of the film takes one hell of a bumpy ride, from the geek squad escaping a near death encounter with drug dealers to establishing their own drug business.

Dope feels like one of the earlier Famuyiwa (director) films, who tried to cram everything he wanted into one 1 hour and 51 minute film. You have video effects taken straight out of the 90’s MTV! commercial, VHS tapes of MTV! Raps, video games, funny GIFS, and the most notable music of the time period the film was inspired by, from Nas, Emcee Hammer and Big Daddy Kane.

In addition, Famuyiwa seemed to have packed the cast with every seemly random cast member, almost as if he was testing the affects of negative reinforcement. There’s everyone, from Forest Whitaker playing the narrator to Roger Guenveur Smith, masking himself as a Harvard Alumni, who also deals drugs on the side. He somehow even manages to jam pack Tyga into this film, but thankfully he dies in the heat of the gunfight.

Final Verdict: A

This film might resonate much better than most teenage films of its time, especially those within the African American community, who are struggling to define themselves from the traditional ‘black caricature.’ I found this interesting, because one of the executive producers is Pharrell Williams,who believes in his concept called ‘The New Black,’ which is all about personal responsibility, without blaming other races for issues in the black community.

The story has something for everyone to relate to. Every person has a place of origin and has their own struggles to face in life. Malcolm is probably the epitome of that struggle, considering his upbringing and his desire to be different from the rest. Its a story about growing up and getting out with the best possible means at your disposable. The only difference is Malcolm chooses to use his intelligence, whereas someone may use sports or fame as their ticket, which is rather common in an area where very little opportunity exist.

The story is also about discovering that much of what you have rejected about the world already exist within your very soul. As Malcolm monologues near the end of the film, there are two kids that exist: Kid A is a straight A student with nearly perfect SAT scores, who is into geek things and plays in a punk band. Kid B is a drug dealer who established an illegal business using bitcoin and doing what he had to do to survive.

I know that I have focused more on the story and the plot, without much concern over the acting and cinematography. The acting is what you can expect when you have such a diverse and incompatible cast. However, it works for the benefit of the film. There is something in Dope for everyone to enjoy, even if you are completely unfamiliar with African American culture.

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