Rick Famuyiwa, USA, 2015, 103 min.
Dope is a packed film. So much happens that the film seems to switch scripts or even genres every few minutes. But it works because of the unique energy pulsing through it from beginning to end. In it’s music, it’s characters, and its performances, Dope separates itself from the rest of the pack and delivers something fresh.
The star of the film is Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a nerdy highschooler in the present day projects of LA. He does well at school, wants to get into Harvard, is obsessed with 9’0s hip-hop music and fashion, and is in a band with his two best friends (Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori).
We see Malcolm navigating the thin line of his day to day: avoiding getting his sneakers stolen, trying to find the safest way home through the streets after school, trying to avoid the local drug-dealers, trying to catch the eye of a certain girl he is smitten with, and balancing all that with the pressures of applying to college.
The opening scenes establishing this world, the characters, and the tone are great. Then the first part of the plot kicks in when Malcolm gets a hold of a bag of drugs, through no fault of his own. Everyone wants it, and Malcolm and his friends try to somehow get cleanly out of this sticky situation.
The plots takes many twists and turns from there, veering off into comedy, action, and drama. There is computer hacking, drug binges, sexual escapades, musical numbers, coming of age, car chases and shootouts. All of which are awkwardly transitioned in and out of but somehow seem to work.
It’s a mess of a movie, but what it has going for it makes everything come together. That energy, that music, and especially those characters. The direction is solid and full of spirit. Famuyiwa knows how to use music, guide performances, and even more important, project a unique vision up on the screen. He even pulled off some Spike Lee touches without it seeming like a ripoff: the surreal scene on the bus, and the epic breaking of the fourth all speech are classic Spike.
But even with that, Dope is a unique film full of great scenes, great music, and ever batter characters. It’s exciting, it’s different, and I left the theater full of admiration and with a smile on my face.