DOPE (Cert. Tbc)
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Stars: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Zoe Kravitz
Rating: * * * (out of 5)
GEEKZ N THE HOOD
It’s hard out here – meaning volatile present-day Inglewood, Los Angeles – for a ‘90s hip-hop-obsessed black geek who’s into “white people shit” (Game of Thrones, TV On the Radio, Donald Glover) and obtaining good grades rather than hard drugs. High-schooler Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two oddball buddies, fidgety scaredy-cat Jib (Tony Revolori) and laidback lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are used to running the gauntlet of having their trainers stolen by jocks, or their bikes snatched by local street dealers. But when Malcolm’s backpack is used by a local dealer to stash a brick-load of MDMA and a gun, things really get wild, with warring gang factions out to get their gear back and the trio forced to use their brains to get the dope out on the street and themselves out of danger.
This isn’t just one busy movie, it’s several all at once. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood, Brown Sugar) uses not just a 90s-infused soundtrack (Digable Planets, Naughty By Nature) but appears to be trying to cram in as many of that decade’s movies too. The inner-city romance of Poetic Justice, the gritty realism of Boyz n the Hood, the buoyant comedy of House Party, even the wild, dangerous capers of a Boogie Nights or Go all come and go. The upside is that if one strand isn’t quite firing, another will come crashing in pretty soon. The downside is that, inevitably, things never really coalesce.
Dope’s roiling collage of styles – freeze frames, multiple screens, flashbacks, voiceover – may seem a bit of a grab-bag at times, but its infectious energy is undeniable. There’s an argument too, that its basic schizophrenia is part of its thesis: that nothing and no one should be definied by one thing. Malcolm initially takes comfort and refuge in his geekhood. It’s only when he’s forced to change and expand his identity, selling the ‚Molly’, or dealing with advances from girls that, the film argues, he can truly realize his full potential, exploring and even embracing some of his darker qualities. That’s a powerful and interesting idea.
There’s no doubt, however, that the film’s sweet-natured, light-hearted moments are its best. The comedy of awkward geeks trying to fit in, like an urban Superbad, are well played by Moore, Revolori – The Grand Budapest Hotel’s lobby boy – and Clemons, the latter in particular impressing with her easygoing charm. There’s a very funny running gag with their white, band camp friend, slacker/hacker Will (Blake Anderson), and his hapless attempts and justification to use the ‚N-word’. But Famuyiwa’s choice to focus on Malcolm ultimately sidelines his friends, somewhat shortchanging the supporting characters. Kravitz’s Nakia disappears for large swathes of the movie, which kind of undercuts the love story.
Then again, it would be preferable to have far less of other players. The film badly misfires when the three friends venture out to a middle-class gangsta wannabe (Quincy Brown) and his slutty, druggie sister (Chantal Iman). She’s portrayed with a quite staggering misogyny, humiliated almost her entire time onscreen and ends up the butt of a viral video clip. Presumably the filmmakers felt they needed to go “edgy”. Instead they end just looking creepy. The film is long – too long, in fact – and has a bunch of endings so that particular unpleasantness does fade from view, but it does nobody any favours.
A bustling, hustling urban coming-of-age comedy that also has some smart, serious stuff to say about identity and empowerment. A game, up-and-coming young cast and kicking retro soundtrack just about get it over some tricky tonal swerves and problematic plotting.
To read the original review on IGN.com click here: Dope review – IGN