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Dan's Review: "Dope" more intelligent than you think

Jun 18, 2015 10:30PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons and Shameik Moore in Dope - © Open Road

Dope (Open Road Films)

Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence-all involving teens.

Starring Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Blake Anderson, Keith Stanfield, Rick Fox, Kimberly Elise, Chanel Iman, Amin Joseph, Allen Maldonado, Ashton Moio, Roger Guenveur Smith, De'aundre Bonds, Quincy Brown, Mimi Michaels, Kap-G, Tyga, Larnell Stovall, Julian Brand, Lidia Porto, Bruce Beatty, Forest Whitaker.

Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa.

GRADE: B+

REVIEW:
Independent films are often a little edgy, taking risks that mainstream movie producers shy away from. Nothing could be more edgy than a movie that takes on all kinds of awkward topics like race, social status, drug culture, teen sex, and inner city gang violence. Dope, a film written and directed by Rick Famuyima is a movie that does not shy away from any of these contemporary issues.

Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a nerdy high school senior living in Inglewood, California among all sorts of dangerous characters connected to gangs and drug dealing. Malcolm’s best friends are Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori). In an effort to get closer to the beautiful Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), Malcolm convinces his pals to go to a birthday party for the neighborhood dealer named Dom (A$AP Rocky), who claims Nakia as his girlfriend. During the party, a DEA raid takes place, and Dom hides several pounds of a party drug in the teen’s backpack. When a rival dealer tries to get the drugs from Malcolm the next day, the kids take refuge at the home of a drug kingpin named AJ (Roger Guenveur Smith). While hiding out, AJ’s Daughter Lily (Chanel Iman) gets ahold of some of the drug, overdoses, and is caught on cellphone video in an awkward situation. The video goes viral, prompting the drug to be named “Lily.”

Meanwhile, Malcolm discovers that AJ is using a check-cashing business as a front for his drug operation. AJ is also a Harvard graduate, and Malcolm’s best chance at getting into the prestigious Ivy League school. AJ refuses to accept the drugs from Malcolm, and insists that the boy and his friends to sell all of it, or there will be radical consequences. Using their nerdy intellect, Malcolm and Co. devise a plan that they hope will be mutually beneficial to all parties.

Dope is a very good film with several hilarious moments as the characters struggle through impossible scenarios. The humor is laced with a substantial amount of edgy content including sex, drugs and violence – all involving kids. It’s not for everybody, despite the universal appeal of the comedic situations. Inglewood may be part of the U.S., but it’s like a foreign country to most of middle America, and it's an interesting to see.

Dope suffers through a bit of an identity conflict as it transitions from a dark comedy about kids trying to rise above the terror of drug/gangland violence into a movie that embraces the chaos. In the beginning of Dope, you see Malcolm as something special; a sympathetic kid who might be able to escape the gloom of street life by rising above it. In the end, you see Malcolm embrace the power, outsmarting all his drug culture rivals, as if he’s the “Walter White” of the ‘Hood. There’s also a jab at racial stereotypes, as Malcolm dons a grey hoodie, shaming the Harvard admissions board that would see him as just another Travon Martin: a thug looking for trouble.

Dope might make some folks a little uncomfortable, but then again, life on the streets is anything but comfortable (or so I hear).

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