Tuesday, June 23, 2015

[Review] Dope

The multi-meaning word "Dope" can be loosely defined as either: drugs, a dumb person, or a term of approval (i.e. cool), and Rick Famuyiwa's Dope has all of the above. This is one of those instances when I just have to proclaim: I absolutely love this movie.

Malcom (Shameik Moore) lives in an area of Inglewood, CA referred to as "The Bottoms." Malcom is a narrator-proclaimed "Geek", and he's obsessed with '90s hip-hop. His two friends Jib (Tony Revolori, known as the Lobby Boy from The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are the same. They're all into "white shit" like Manga, the band Trash Talk, and Donald Glover. From day-to-day they have to deal with getting harassed by gang members (one played by Keith Stanfield from the excellent Short Term 12) and possibly being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Someone needs to invent an app so we can avoid these hood traps," Jib says.

The plot pops off when the trio of friends sneak into a big party hosted by a local drug lord named Dom, played solidly by that P.M.F. A$AP Rocky (up-and-coming Long Beach rapper Vince Staples also makes an appearance). Malcom and Dom both happen to have a thing for a girl named Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), because who wouldn't? (And yes, she's developed further than just being one-dimensional eye-candy.) This sets up some minor conflict, but the party really goes bad when a shootout erupts, and Malcom somehow ends up with a loaded gun and a stash of MDMA in his backpack. What ensues is a twisty rollercoaster of dilemmas as Malcom and his friends try to figure out what the hell to do with the sought-after backpack.

Dope is an exuberant romp of youthful energy, heavily informed and influenced by hip-hop culture and "hip" culture in general. If you're familiar with all the contemporary references in regards to music and the Internet Meme world, you will definitely get a rise out of this. The immaculate casting does wonders (save for the Tyga cameo), and it probably goes without mentioning that there's a great soundtrack to boot. The swift pacing is on point, and it's highly entertaining at every turn. It's all so fresh, hilarious, downright fun, wildly absurd, offensive (the overtly PC crowd might have a tough time with this one), and it has brains.

The script touches upon what it means to be an "outsider" in a cutthroat setting, but it even goes beyond that. It's about the complexity of identity--you don't necessarily have to label yourself as one thing or the other. The film also drives home a message about black youth & education as Malcom stares directly into the camera, reciting some powerful notes from his college admissions essay, in a sequence that is most likely an homage to Spike Lee joints.

With the recent Spy, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, and now Dope, I think most of us can agree that it's been an awesome summer stretch of June. Dope is very generational driven and it'll be a hit with niche audiences. So it won't all completely resonate with everyone, but if you're down with this stuff, I have no doubts that you will also love it.

* 9.5/10 *

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