- on Friday, 19 June 2015 14:29
- by Frank Wilkins
In a title card opening of Dope, the new film by writer-director Rick Famuyiwa, we’re given three widely accepted definitions of the word dope: a drug; an idiot; and the slang word for excellent. In a refreshingly imaginative way, Famuyiwa manages to incorporate all three meanings into his film that shatters African-American movie character stereotypes and turns the entire genre on its head.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two best friends Jib (Tony Revolori - best known as the bellhop in The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are obsessed with 1990’s-era hip hop culture, excelling in school, and bettering their punk rock band they call The Oreos. They’re geeks, basically, an unpopular trait for inner-city Inglewood, California high school kids who want to fit in.
Between run-ins with local gang bangers and drug dealers in his blighted neighborhood he calls “The Bottoms,” Malcolm has hopes of attending Harvard once he graduates. But few economic opportunities, poor or absent parenting, and an abundance of school bullies lower the odds of his – as well as that of any of his friends – chances at finding a way out.
That is, until he does a favor for a local drug lord (Rakim Mayers) with hopes of getting closer to the dealer’s girlfriend, Nakia (Zoé Karvitz), but instead, unknowingly ends up with a back-pack full of the designer drug known as Molly. Unable to return the stash to its rightfully imprisoned owner, Malcolm concocts a wild but ingenious plan to sell the dope on the black market using a series of anonymous computers and untraceable currency known as bitcoins.
With its occasional scatter-brained focus and too many characters involved in too many subplots, Dope often feels like the debut product of an amateur filmmaker. But its this constant teetering between innocence and danger that actually gives the film its can’t-look-away charisma. Like a mash-up of Risky Business (or anything by John Hughes) and Boyz in the Hood, the film is riotously funny, but never shies away from the realistically-depicted danger that Malcolm and his friends face around every corner. It takes full advantage of its hard R rating and at other times, is as simplistically corny as it can be. The nudity – mostly from the sister of a wealthy friend – often feels gratuitous and actually detracts from the film. But hey, if you get the rating, might as well take advantage of it, right?
Another of the film’s high points is the debut big screen performance of Moore in the lead role. His Malcolm wears a retro “Fresh Prince” high-top fade above acid-washed jeans and bright white Air Jordan’s. In Famuyiwa’s world, Malcolm is a brilliant kid caught in the worst of circumstances and Moore depicts the character’s complexity with ease, often saying more with his facial expressions than with spoken words which is only appropriate since natural dialogue seems to be one of Famuyiwa’s weaknesses.
One thing that can’t be said of the film, however is that it is predictable and falls into genre formula. Yes, it is a sometimes too-truthful coming-of-age drama about minority kids – mostly African American – who struggle in the filthy pit of a crime-ridden inner city, but to lump it in with other similarly-plotted films is to miss its purpose. It’s an all-too-truthful depiction that would sting were it not so darn loose and funny. To put it in Malcolm’s own words, Famuyiwa’s film is kind of dope.
MPAA Rating: R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence-all involving teens.
Runtime: 103 mins
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Writer: Rick Famuyiwa
Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons
Genre: Comedy | Drama
Tagline: It's hard out here for a geek..
Memorable Movie Quote: "What's up with that, anyway?"
Distributor: Open Road Films
Official Site: http://youaredope.com/
Release Date: June 19, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: A coming of age comedy/drama for the post hip hop generation. Malcolm is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, CA filled gangsters and drugs dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews and the SAT. His dream is to attend Harvard. A chance invitation to a big underground party leads Malcolm and his friends into a, only in Los Angeles, gritty adventure filed with offbeat characters and bad choices. If Malcolm can persevere, he'll go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.
No details available.