Director: Rick Famuyiwa
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 103 min.
Featuring one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard all year, Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope presents itself as a coming-of-age story that somehow manages to feel fresh among the ever-present barrage of films featuring teenage turmoil.
The film opens with us being introduced to Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore, a ’90s hip-hop geek living in South Central Los Angeles who is just trying to get through each day without being beat up or murdered with his two best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori). Inspired in large part from Yo! MTV Raps, this trio’s style and interests make them easy targets for bullies and drug dealers, eventually landing them in a situation where they must offload a large quantity of MDMA before getting themselves killed.
Supported by what amounts to a greatest-hits collection of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop, Dope is a lively film that’s well scripted and never not funny. Even the cheaper laughs, like when someone throws up on Malcolm’s face, are surprisingly effective. That’s not to say there isn’t any depth to the plot either, as the film perfectly balances the humor with its more dramatic elements.
As Malcolm tries to juggle school, college applications, a love interest (played by Zoë Kravitz) and his newfound surplus of drugs, the film begins to become more complex, mixing all the stresses of his life into one overwhelming mess that threatens to swallow him whole. This, along with the many characters introduced throughout the film, make it almost Tarantino-esque in its presentation, something I didn’t expect but am happy to report that ultimately works to the film’s benefit.
Performances from the entire central cast are strong, with Moore’s transition from a timid geek to a commanding and self-assertive leader coming off as both natural and earned. One of the surprise performances was that of A$ap Rocky’s character of Dom, the violent drug dealer who is sharp witted as well as hilarious.
As an ’80s and ’90s hip-hop fanatic myself, I was in love with the style of Dope. Sure, maybe it’s pandering to people who grew up during that time, but because the three leads were obsessed with that culture, it all felt justified and quite appropriate. Plus, I’m instantly on board for any excuse to employ a soundtrack like this. (And this is a sentence that I never imagined I would write, ever: At one point the filmmakers use a Korn song, and it actually works.)
The only slight I would make against the film, and it’s a minor quibble, is that the end felt like it should have been re-structured a bit. There’s a fantastic monologue from Malcolm that summarizes the overlying theme of the film, something I don’t normally care for in movies, but it this case it was done so effectively that it would have been a powerful note to end the film on. Unfortunately, there’s an additional scene afterward that wraps up one of the plot threads, keeping the ending satisfying but with much less gravitas.
Dope is smart, hilarious and is certainly one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen this year. My recommendation is to throw on your favorite pair of parachute pants or backwards jeans and saunter on over to your multiplex and check this one out because, as the title denotes, it’s dope. (I couldn’t help it).