UK Release Date: 4th September 2015
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Writer: Rick Famuyiwa
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Roger Guenveur Smith
Synopsis: A geeky high schooler living in a rough area finds himself in possession of an enormous quantity of MDMA and must find a way to get rid of it.
A dramedy set on the streets of one of California’s worst neighbourhoods, Dope arrived in UK cinemas with festival buzz shooting a rocket up its rear end. The story, which places a huge quantity of drugs in the hands of a trio of self-confessed geeks, has Sundance written all over it much like release date bedfellow Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Unlike that film, however, Dope never manages to escape that pigeonhole.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a straight-A high school student about to interview for a place at Harvard. Alongside his similarly nerdy friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), he is obsessed with 90s culture and hip-hop. A chance encounter with drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky) and his on-off girlfriend Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) leads the trio to a party, which they inadvertently leave in possession of a bag of MDMA.
Dope is a film that thinks it’s considerably cooler than it is. The script, from director Rick Famuyiwa, is clever-clever more than it is intelligent and tries to navigate an awkward central ground between screwball comedy and suburban crime thriller. It’s never funny or thrilling enough to successfully fill that niche and would have been far better if it had chosen a genre in which to live.
| "I have my Harvard interview tomorrow. We’re not going to a drug dealer’s birthday party."
That’s not to say that there aren’t laughs in the film. Newcomer Shameik Moore is a tremendous comedy performer with a great delivery, who proves to be an identifiable lead when the script doesn’t demand that he turn his wit and cleverness into arrogance. Moore has a great nerdy likeability to him, as do his co-stars Tony Revolori, last seen in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and TV performer Kiersey Clemons.
Dope, too, benefits from its hip-hop nostalgia, arriving in the wake of Straight Outta Compton. This gives the film a tone of cheery looking back, which meshes surprisingly well with the modern story riffs on social media and Bitcoin. Those riffs, however, often feel gratuitous and often feel like lip service rather than an integral part of the story. Like teen comedy The DUFF, the film often seems keen to simply list social media rather than incorporating them into the fabric of the story.
Despite the relative simplicity of its narrative, Dope often seems to get confused by its own story as it darts from one episodic set piece to another. Famuyiwa is so preoccupied with making the film kinetic and fast-paced that he often sacrifices coherence and emotion in favour of perfunctory comedic riffs and stylistic flourishes.
| "We don’t know nothing about drugs. You do."
There’s an admirable light-heartedness to Dope and it’s genuinely refreshing to see a film in UK multiplexes that focuses on the black community. However, this is a film that’s self-consciously trying to be cinematically clever and suffers as a result. It’s got charm and there’s a certain sharpness to its dialogue, but the film is definitely trying too hard.
Pop or Poop?
Despite its enticing tone and charming 90s nostalgia, Dope is a film that has delusions of its own intelligence and feels more than a little episodic.
Shameik Moore and friends give bright performances, but the plot loses itself in a mire of cultural references.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.