Dope Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Screenwriter: Rick Famuyiwa
Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Chanel Iman, Tyga, Blake Anderson, ZoÃ« Kravitz, A$AP Rocky Open Road Films
Rated R | 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2015
In Dope, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a teenager trying to survive in Inglewood while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him on an adventure, that could allow him to go from being a geek to becoming “dope.”
Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood), Dope was a critically acclaimed audience favorite at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s a smart, ambitious comedy-drama that’s equal parts Go, Superbad, and Kid and Play’s House Party, with a touch of John Hughes.
Malcolm is a soft-spoken straight-A student with his sights on Harvard. He’s also a ’90s hip-hop geek with a flattop who plays in a punk band with his two outcast friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel).
On the run from some Crips after his Air Jordans, Malcolm runs into Dom (A$AP Rocky), a drug dealer with some serious connections in Inglewood. Dom enlists Malcolm’s help in inviting the beautiful Nakia (ZoÃ« Kravitz) to his birthday party. In return, Malcolm and his friends get to attend the super-exclusive blowout.
Before Malcolm can work up the nerve to make a move on Nakia, gunshots ring out in the club and cops shut the party down. Malcolm and his friends make it out OK, but the Harvard hopeful has unknowingly become Dom’s mule. Hidden his backpack are a gun, a cellphone, and a shitload of Ecstasy. With Dom in lockup and gangbangers on their trail, the trio of teenagers have to come up with a scheme to sell the drugs and get out of Inglewood while they still can.
Dope coasts by on the noteworthy performance of newcomer Shameik Moore. Moore infuses Malcolm with a kindness and an earnestness that makes him instantly endearing. You’re rooting for this kid from the moment you meet him – and when he gets mixed up in a bad scene, you’re legitimately concerned that this slippery slope could squander his potential.
As for the film itself, there’s a fresh and vibrant point of view on display – and a powerful message – but the execution is somewhat slight. Famuyiwa’s film feels indie – that’s not to say it’s amateurish, it’s just messy and erratic. Dope‘s first act is a blast because the characters are great and the stakes are relatively low.
There’s the typical teenage concerns of test scores and sex, but once the drug/gangbanger plot is introduced, there’s a total shift in tone from freewheeling high school comedy to a Belly-esque crime drama.
Still, Dope succeeds in making some interesting observations about race in America. Famuyiwa’s message isn’t heavy-handed, yet it doesn’t quite mesh with the film’s comedic tone either. In any case, Dope gets a passing grade for its great performances and a soundtrack overflowing with ’90s hip-hop classics. Malcolm may have Harvard, but Shameik Moore is destined for greatness.