Dope

Dope photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgMalcolm (Shameik Moore) is a straight A high school geek constantly pushed around at school. His dream is to get into Harvard after graduation. This coming of age story sounds familiar right? OK now let me add that he lives in the Darby-Dixon neighborhood of Inglewood nicknamed “The Bottoms”. He loves 90s hip hop and desses like the 4th member of Bell Biv DeVoe. That’s different because this is 2015. He lives with his single mother (Kimberly Elise) and he’s never known his father. His two best friends are Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) with whom he has formed a punk band called Awreeoh (pronounced “Oreo” because…oh do I even have to explain it?).

Life is tough for Malcom. He’s picked on by bullies who want his shoes, harassed by neighborhood thugs who want his bike, and belittled by the school counselor (Bruce Beatty) for his Harvard dreams. The playful tone is shattered when the drug dealer’s (rap star A$AP Rocky) party they’re attending, ends in a shower of bullets and a police raid. They escape. However back at school Malcolm discovers several bricks of Molly (MDMA in powder form) and a gun have been stuffed in his backpack. Now he and his friends must find a way to get rid of the drugs without getting killed or locked up.

Dope is one of those movies that really demands a lot from its audience. Smart viewers will think of easier ways out of this mess, but the screenplay doesn’t see it that way. It’s a progression of convoluted occurrences with a hodgepodge of zany gags bolstered by glib racial commentary. Shootings played for laughs and kamikaze disrobings by a sexually promiscuous coke fiend (Chanel Iman) are clumsy attempts at humor. Her filmed outdoor embarrassment becomes a social media meme because well “the Internet”. The script works hard throwing all sorts of random bits at the viewer. It’s a desperate attempt to be funny but the awkward mix of violence and lighthearted shenanigans are tonally off putting.

Dope is highlighted by a game attractive cast. There are moments, mostly in the first half, that had me laughing at its amusing view of nerds in the ‘hood. But the narrative is sloppy. The film vacillates between subverting stereotypes almost as often as it exploits them. I liked Dope when it did the former and not so much when it succumbed to the latter. Malcolm’s college application essay for Harvard is literally spoken at the end as a kind of justification for his actions. It’s a risky (business) move because Malcolm has done many questionable things. Oh and I must fault a script too oblivious to point out the pun that a black male uses blackmail.  Talk about a missed opportunity. The author (read screenwriter) has clearly fashioned the moment as a call to stand up and cheer. I suppose life is a series of choices and not everyone is faced with the same ones. Fair enough. Still it’s hard to hang your hat on a movie where the apparent moral is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

06-29-15

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12 Responses to “Dope”

  1. You really do churn out such excellent reviews.

  2. Well said. I did enjoy this maybe a bit more than you, but I agree, this was sort of all over the place, especially the aforementioned Chanel Iman part in the middle.

    It was so random and out of left field that I believed the film was going downhill from there. Did enjoy the twist though, which saved it imo, and brought the film back in a good light for me.

    • I really enjoyed the first half but the plot went of the rails when they met Lily (Chanel Iman) and it never recovered. I wished Malcolm had pulled himself out of the muck instead of becoming a part of it.

  3. This movie worked so well for me, but I will admit the more I think about it it’s a tonal roller coaster. There were parts I was laughing where I had to actually stop and think of whether or not that was an appropriate response lol. Comedy should never come with an asterisk. I still thought this movie more often than not subverted stereotypes rather than fell prey to them. But to each their own.

    • I was really disapointed he became a drug dealer. I was like, “NO! You’re better than that!”

      • I looked at it more as a trap that he fell into because of his surroundings. It wasn’t so much the film defaulting to stereotypes as much as the character falling prey to them, and that’s what I thought this story did well. It set up an environment in which genuinely good people could fail easily. And that was a moving conflict for me, even growing up in a privileged sector. I totally get that other people may not see it that way, but that’s what I got out of this.

      • Yeah I get what you’re saying. It’s just that everything I liked about the character in the beginning was ruined. Malcolm was a smart guy, but the script posits that the only way a guy like him could get into Harvard was to blackmail Austin Jacoby because the system is broken.

        I wanted to like this too. I really did. But if the proposition is that no matter how good you are, you will be corrupted, then that’s not something I can embrace.

  4. This kept going in directions I didn’t like. Don’t understand all the love for this. I thought it was meh. 2 1/2 stars

  5. I’ve heard the plot is a bit convoluted and that Dope’s tone is inconsistent, so I’m not surprised to read those things in your review. Seems like there are some moments of promise, but that the narrative is kind of a mess. Not in a rush to see this one.

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