Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior growing up in one of the tougher neighborhoods in LA. A straight-A student with ambitions beyond his humble roots, he’s also completely obsessed with 90’s hip hop culture. He’s got a couple of friends who share his passion, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). Together, they’re three urban geeks just trying to find themselves.
When Malcom ends up, by chance, mixed up with hottie Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) and her sort of boyfriend drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky), he and his friends are in for the ride of their lives. Suddenly in possession of some costly contraband with dangerous people after them and no clue, the three of them have to make some fast decisions.
Dope has a lot to say, and it’s not afraid to say it, loudly and with much profanity. Authentic language, I think, is what the movie’s going for. While excessive, it at least comes off sounding natural and not forced for the sake of shock value. The frequency of certain words, however, would probably make even Django director Tarantino blush. The film’s culture – a mostly black, low income hood in LA – is far removed from my own though, so who am I to judge? Just be aware that colorful language flies free, as do girls’ tops on several occasions – this is very much an R rated film despite it’s charming indie flavor.
Like I said already, Dope has a lot on its mind that it wants to get out there. There’s plenty of interesting stuff it has to say, but it tries to say too much at once, often forgetting to keep things cohesive enough to really matter. The story and the film itself are both rather frenetic and move at a quick and jumbled jaunt. There were a few occasions where I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to know who certain characters were or how or if they knew each other. Sometimes story elements are introduced that don’t lead anywhere. For example, a big deal is made of the fact that Diggy is a lesbian at the beginning of the film, and that pretty much never comes into play again.
As the story progresses, it seems to make less and less sense until the end brings things into cohesion. Unfortunately the end is also the the most conventional aspect of the whole thing, faltering into cliche territory. The main character of Malcolm, a thoroughly contemporary hero, bugs me also. Overly passive for most of the movie, I found him a bit hard to root for despite many admirable qualities.
I know, I seem to be hating a lot on this movie that has had a lot of positive buzz. It’s not all bad though, I actually found a lot to like about it as well, despite what you might think.
Tackling timely issues of race, on top of your standard issue coming of age trials and tribulations, it’s not afraid to put itself out there in a big way. While the storytelling methods didn’t mesh with me, they are, in a lot of ways, fresh and interesting. While the actual skeleton of the story is actually rather a tired tale that’s been done before, the meat on it gives it a significant amount of new life. Even if I didn’t like the character of Malcom that much, he’s still intriguing and a raw, honest, portrayal of a young person dealing with how he is perceived and how he perceives himself.
At the very least, it’s a conversation starter, which is what I think it ultimately wants to be. It’s also entertaining, and kept me wondering where it was headed for the whole time. Like I said, I felt a little let down by the payoff – when things come together and make sense, it was with ideas that you’ve certainly seen before, but I still smiled and there is a mesh of some original ideas overlaid as well.
Like I’ve said before, there’s a whole lot going on and being said with this film, and it’s a little difficult to sort it all out. The message seems to be a bit fluid and it’s not always easy to make out, but in amongst the confusion are some ideas and conversations worth paying attention to, I’m just not sure this film makes it as easy as it could to do so.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“The end part was a little all over the place, but overall a good film.”
My rating: Three out of five hats
Dope stumbles into theaters nationwide, June 19