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Dope – Review


Release Date: 19 June 2015 [USA]
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Writer: Rick Famuyiwa
Cast: Shameik Moore - Tony Revolori - Kiersey Clemons



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Posted July 23, 2015 by

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Dope Review:

I grew up in the late 80s and 90s. Those were my high school and college years. In 2015, I feel haunted by the era of my youth. Movie and TV remakes have taken that haunting closer to torment with the general nostalgia obsession that permeates pop culture making it hard to miss something that I can’t get a break from. With that said, I watched DOPE, a film starring young characters who are diehard fans of 90s hip hop culture. It’s a small, but significant difference for me.

Dope at its heart is a coming-of-age movie told from a point of view we don’t normally see. It tells the story of young Malcolm Adekanbi, a high school senior who loves all things 90s, particularly hip hop culture. Malcolm is a straight-A student with dreams of going to Harvard, but his high school counselor reminds him that he’s from Inglewood, a part of California not known for intellectuals, but gangsters. Because of this, Malcolm’s counselor dashes his dreams by telling him that Harvard ignores students from Inglewood, no matter how impressive their grades and test scores are.

Malcolm and his friends, Jib and Diggy, are heading home when they use a shortcut through a block known for trouble. Jib and Diggy cross through the area without a problem, but Malcolm stops. With his Harvard dreams gone, Malcolm decides to talk to Dom, a drug dealer. Malcolm and Dom hit it off with a mutual love for the 90s though Dom does like to remind Malcolm that not all things in the 90s were that great, particularly Vanilla Ice. I don’t think anyone will argue with that.

Dom invites Malcolm to his birthday party and it’s here where the main track of the movie gets started. The party is raided by police and Malcolm ends up with Dom’s drugs while Dom ends up in jail. Dom tries to instruct Malcolm on what to do from inside jail, while another group tries to get their hands on the backpack full of dope.

Dope is, frankly, dope for a lot of the time, but other times, it’s oddly inconsistent. The movie is littered with hip hop hits of the 90s, except for when it’s using songs by Awreeoh (pronounced Oreo), the band Malcolm and his friends have formed. Awreeoh’s music is created by Pharrell who is also one of the star-studded producers (P. Diddy, Forest Whitaker). While I have nothing against Pharrell’s music, I imagined this movie using the music their characters love to relate the past with the present. Instead half the music is just for nostalgic purposes, and the other half is Pharrell’s experimental voyage into the mind of a modern day high school kid. I find it strange even, that Awreeoh’s music doesn’t sound much like 90s hip hop.

The direction in Dope is mostly uneventful, except for scenes where they randomly use comic book-like split-screens. Though only brief moments, they are a bit jarring and don’t seem at all necessary. At times Dope feels like it’s paying homage to some of the 90s best young, gangster movies like BOYZ N DA HOOD (1991) or MENACE II SOCIETY (1993). It’s never as dark as those movies, but Dope rides an interesting line between that world and more lighthearted adolescent films. Actor Shameik Moore does a great job as the lead and carries the movie through. But there are moments where things get very “movie,” particularly when one gangster holds up a city bus. The bus driver is oddly casual about it, the passengers are terrified, the police are nowhere to be seen. I was never quite sure if I should laugh or be worried and instead found myself questioning the writing and logic of the scene.

Dope is partially formulaic, but the characters within the formula are fresh and interesting. It also includes something that was very common for me in my youth — diversity. Dope presents a group of friends much like the ones I had and that’s something I don’t often get to enjoy in a movie. Typically, secondary characters who are a lesbian or Latino feel like tokens. They’re there to feign diversity. In Dope, Director Rick Famuyiwa doesn’t put the cast diversity on display, as it should be, because when you grow up around a wide-range of people, the notion of differences dissipates, blending into the fabric of normalcy.

As much as I liked Dope, it’s biggest flaw is inconsistency. Sometimes it’s funny and feels like a comedy, sometimes it’s serious and feels like a down-to-earth, coming-of- age story with a diverse group of characters. The mix is strange, like a cocktail with a little too much or too little of … something … but you can’t quite put your finger on it. The soundtrack is a mini-tour through 90s hip hop from the likes of NWA, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy. Dope wasn’t quite the nostalgic high I thought it would be, but it’s a solid movie that’s fresh enough to give a good buzz.


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Ruben R. Diaz
Freelance Contributor

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