Dope

New comedy features fresh faces and a novel approach to storytelling

By Hans Pedersen, August 2015 Issue.4halfstars

In this fresh take on growing up in a rough neighborhood, one of the smartest kids at Inglewood High School, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), gets caught up with drug dealers and must turn the tables on his foes.

Narrated and produced by Forest Whitaker, this electrifying dramatic comedy features new faces and a novel approach to storytelling. A Grand Jury Prize nominee at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Dope has been compared to the 1983 classic Risky Business, but with an infusion of hip-hop and bitcoin, along with a gender non-conforming lesbian sidekick named Diggy (Kiersey Clemons).

Malcolm, Diggy and Jib (Tony Revolori from Grand Budapest Hotel) are self-professed geeks who love old school hip-hop and skateboards. While Malcolm is working to get into Harvard, his principal assures him straight A’s from his Los Angeles suburban high school are no guarantee.

dope-film-sundance-asaprockyThe three make a life-changing decision to attend the birthday party of a neighborhood drug dealer, Dom (A$AP Rocky), after Malcolm gets an invite from his flirtatious girlfriend (Zoe Kravitz). When police bust the party, a large stash of drugs finds its way into Malcolm’s knapsack – a discovery he makes when drug-sniffing dogs at school alert police to suspicious activity.

The teen geeks who never get in trouble are nonetheless able to pull off a brazen scheme. Part of the fun of this romp thru the streets of Inglewood is watching the trio one-up their rivals.

Director and writer Rick Famuyiwa, who also helmed The Wood, delivers a standout coming-of-age story that truly shines. It’s stocked with inventive storytelling flourishes like watching scenes in reverse and allowing them to unfold a second time so audiences can see another side to a situation. And the smart script does not resort to tired clichés or toilet humor.

But the movie does have its icky moments, including a sex scene where intimacy gets derailed in an explosively funny way.

One of the biggest sticking points may be that Diggy does not always feel like a fully fleshed character that may be looking for love. She’s treated as a sidekick character that’s never entirely developed.

Clemons does a wonderful job with the role, which is unconventional since Diggy identifies primarily as male and expresses her gender identity unabashedly.

But her primary purpose seems to be to ogle at women and play a supportive role to Malcolm. What sort of woman does she like? We never really get to know, since both she and Jib are defined as Malcolm’s cohorts and part of a trio. Diggy does get to enjoy a lap dance with a topless lady in a montage, but otherwise her attraction is limited to wagging her tongue in lewd gestures when it looks like Malcolm may score.

With her sexual self-expression remaining adolescent, some may find the character unsatisfying, but her bold self-expression is nonetheless admirable.

Ultimately, Malcolm and his friends are so charming and likeable it’s easy to cheer them on. Moore’s facial expressions, especially in romantic scenes, are both charming and heart-melting, and Kravitz is stunningly beautiful as the gal who tries stealing his heart. A$AP Rocky is also oozing with charisma, proving the filmmakers have assembled a truly sexy cast.

The closing credits, set to Digital Underground’s cornball old-school song “Humpty Dance,” serve as a perfect coda for this exhilarating roller coaster of a rollicking fun film with the tag line “It’s Hard Out Here For A Geek.” Played against footage of Moore getting his groove on in cheesy ways, the tune seems to epitomize the spirit of the movie – so it may come as no surprise that Pharrell Williams (writer of the feel-good earworm tune “Happy”) is the executive producer.

Dope is now playing in select local theatres. For more information, visit youaredope.com.


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