Movie Review - Dope
The point is made at the end of the film that someone, anyone, particularly white people, might look at a young black man and make certain judgments or assumptions. Someone might look at that black man and think he's a thug, a drug dealer or an uneducated ruffian. What this movie wants to do is change that someone into thinking that the black man in question might be a computer nerd who knows how to write code, plays in a hipster, punk band, likes 90's culture and despite being about to graduate from high school is still a virgin.
Shameik Moore stars as Malcolm, a 16 or 17-year-old boy of Nigerian descent who dresses and even styles his hair as if he were Will Smith, back-in-time and fresh off the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He is the black nerd in the center of this tale. His main focus is surviving his final year in high school and getting accepted into college, specifically Harvard University.
He lives in Inglewood, California, specifically a section that is quite impoverished and is run or dominated by criminals like drug dealers. Malcolm and his two best friends, Jib, played by Tony Revolori, and Diggy, played by Kiersey Clemons, have managed to avoid the drug dealers, but one day riding their bicycles home from school, Malcolm is diverted into the path of a drug dealer who pulls him into that world.
A$AP Rocky plays Dominique or Dom, a drug dealer who pulls Malcolm into his world by simply being nice to him and engaging him on his knowledge of 90's culture whether it's with movies or with rap music. He's somewhat of a foil to Marquis, a school bully who likes to steal shoes. Marquis is played by Keith Stanfield. Dom, in fact, defends Malcolm, certainly to an extremely aggressive degree, but Malcolm is won over.
Zoe Kravitz plays Nakia, the girlfriend of Dom and a total Lisa Bonet-type. She separated from him and is more focused on getting her G.E.D., rather than being Dom's girlfriend. Dom is trying to win her back and strangely uses Malcolm to do it, but Malcolm becomes overly smitten with her. She clearly notices this, but she still allows Dom back in.
Thanks to the awkwardness of Malcolm and the kind of comedy aimed at living in a black ghetto, a lot of this movie feels like Friday (1995) meets The Inkwell (1994). It takes a turn and then feels like it might be a more comedic version of Boyz N the Hood (1991). It takes another turn and then feels like it could be a black, nerdy, teenage version of Breaking Bad. It then takes one final turn and ends up being a version of last year's Dear White People.
Famuyiwa perhaps takes too many turns, but, as Malcolm states, he is all about rejecting cliches. This movie is self-same. The many turns seem to be the filmmaker rejecting the cliches and the obvious places one assumes it might go. Along the way, Famuyiwa injects some pretty wicked comedy, delivered through narration by Forest Whitaker. Most of which is subtle and might fly under the radar.
Some might not get the Justin Bieber joke. Some might not get the Donald Glover joke. Many probably won't get the joke that is the name of Malcolm's band, Awreeoh. Most will probably laugh at the masturbation joke because it's obvious. Many will probably laugh at the toilet humor because it's easy and overt, and coming from a girl. A skinny, light-skinned black girl named Lily, played by Chanel Iman, a model making her film debut, accomplishes what Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy did in Bridesmaids.
Yet, there's so much great inherent commentary that ranges from the gangster mentality adopted into rap culture to President Obama's use of drones. Yes, every other line might posses the N-word or the 4-letter s-word, but, make no mistake. There is a lot of intelligence in Famuyiwa's script. His screenplay just has to be a certain level of offensive and shocking in order to make his points. In the myriad of turns it makes, some things might get lost, but his landing is pretty remarkable.
One final note is the use of young actor Quincy Brown who plays Jaleel, the son of a successful and older drug dealer. He's also a guy who is into making music. This is the second feature for Brown this year. His previous film in which he was a lead, Brotherly Love, has a lot in common with this one. His previous film was more dramatic. This one is more comedic. Yet, he's an interesting young actor and hopefully we'll see more of him.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence-all involving teens.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.