Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa (“Our Family Wedding”)
Written by: Rick Famuyiwa (“Our Family Wedding”)
Rather than set his movie in the culture of hip-hop during the 90s, writer and director Rick Famuyiwa did a smart thing and made his characters fascinated with 90’s culture. Something about seeing a teenager in a modern setting with a hi-top fade and terrible fluorescent clothing is amusing and also serves as a nice bit of nostalgia for those who feel like they grew up in the wrong era. In “Dope,” Famuyiwa creates a love-letter to the 90’s era, wrapped up in a story of teenagers in over their heads.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles, self-described nerd Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a good student trying to get into Harvard. But when he gets caught up in trying to chase a girl in his social life, him and his friends find themselves way over their head when Malcolm’s backpack is used as a hiding spot for some dangerous items. Confused, scared, and with a lot on his plate, Malcolm must do things he never dreamed of to get himself out of the jam.
As a coming-of-age, slice of culture film about nerdy teenagers in a rough neighborhood, the early moments of “Dope” flourish. Hilarious lines about liking white stuff like “Donald Glover,” and especially the secondary character performance of actor Tony Revolori, really hit. These characters are a lot of fun to be around. Shortly after, however, “Dope” gets a little too ambitious and complex and as a result loses a lot of its focus.
It’s simply a classic case of overstuffing. Our main characters are given far too many character quirks and side plots that never seem to have much of a payoff. Elements such as them being in a band, for example, has no real reason to exist. Beyond that, the film’s narrative takes it down different paths that stretch it way too thin.
As the teens find themselves in a deeper hole, the jump that the audience is supposed to make is a little extreme as the film shifts into its drug dealing story. These scenes feel like almost an entirely different movie with different characters. Even within these moments, segments take weird detours, bringing in oddly placed social media aspects that don’t make a lot of sense. Mix these complexities with an ending that feels rushed and tied together with a pretty bow and you have a film that, despite its good qualities, feels haphazardly thrown together and confused.
As a side note, “Dope” spends a pretty significant amount of time devoted to Bitcoin, which ends up being a rather huge part of the plot. Unfortunately, it misses on the seemingly gargantuan task of explaining just what the hell Bitcoin actually is. Let’s face it. Does anyone really know?
“Dope” is a film with a serious identity crisis. At times, it tries to be way too many things at once, and unfortunately, does none of them exceedingly well. But give credit where credit is due. It’s occasionally quite funny, and frequently entertaining, if not a bit messy and about half an hour too long. There is, admittedly, a lot of charisma between its cast members though despite these things, “Dope” just barely misses the mark.