Words by Matt Poe
Three high school nerds surviving in Inglewood, California, try to evade police, gang members and drug dealers after mistakenly inheriting a backpack filled with dope.
Category: Comedy-Drama, Coming of Age
Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity and some violence—all involving teens
Starring Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori/ Written and Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Welcome to another edition of Poe’s Picks, the one-stop shop for all films Netflix. As you may have noticed, I like to air out some grievances before we dive into my film reviews. I have to warn you, this week’s grievances and confession are the most shocking to date here on Poe’s Picks. There’s a chance this blog will never be the same.
As I fired up my beloved Netflix account, I began to search for this week’s movie to review for my lovely audience. I searched…and searched…and searched. I soon realized I had fallen victim to the very thing this blog was meant to destroy. Ashamed, embarrassed and in need of a long look in the mirror for some soul searching, I decided to come up with a new system to choose movies for this blog, which I’ll reveal and start next week, because if I fail you, dear reader, I’ve failed as a man. But enough epiphanies and self-realization. Let’s get to the goods.
“Dope” begins by explaining the various meanings of the titular term. For those unaware, it can mean a few things: somebody’s a dope (a stupid person), that’s so dope (meaning “great,” and this happens to be my favorite use of the word) and to sell dope (as in sell drugs). You’ll soon find that the film and the characters who inhabit it cover all three interpretations.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior living in the notoriously rough area of Inglewood, California, just outside of Los Angeles. He and his two best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), are obsessed with everything ’90s. They ride around the urban jungle on their BMX bikes, listening to ’90s hip-hop on their Walkmans and dressing like hipster nerds before the term “hipster” was coined.
Malcolm and his crew aren’t into rough activities like sports or gang membership, and this immediately labels them as outcasts. They’re also black and hope to attend college after high school in an area where many youths don’t have so much as a GED. Malcolm has his sights set on Harvard, but his happy-go-lucky outlook is dismissed by virtually everyone.
The adventure begins when Malcolm and his crew take an alternate route home after school and run into Dom, a big-shot drug dealer played by hip-hop artist A$AP Rocky. Rocky shows some considerable acting skills, winning over friends and foes with his fist and pearly smile. Something about Malcolm strikes a chord in Dom, and he invites the high schoolers to his birthday party. There, a series of tense and hilarious moments ensue, resulting in Malcolm possessing a backpack filled with thousands of dollars of Molly (a pure form of ecstasy). From there on out, Malcolm and his friends must find a way to get rid of the dope without getting killed while hopefully making a little cash in return.
The first act of the movie is great. Narrated by Oscar-winning Forest Whitaker, the film breaks off into some really cool shots of FaceTime calls and YouTube videos, all accompanied by a killer soundtrack. Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Biggie Smalls, Busta Rhymes and many more of the great ’90s rappers capture the sound of the film with a perfect tone. Sprinkle in some modern hip-hop by Rocky himself and Vince Staples (who also plays a minor role) and it easily becomes one of the best soundtracks in recent memory.
The first act and most of the second are so good that the final part can’t capture the initial energy infused by all involved. Some quality, unpredictable turns guide viewers near the end, but I thought it fell a little flat; that’s more a fault in the writing, not the acting. There’s hardly a mainstream actor in the film besides Whitaker, and we only hear his voice. Newcomers Moore, Clemons and Revolori (who was great in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) all hold their own, and although there are some stereotypes, they create well-rounded characters. Blake Anderson from “Workaholics” also has a few hysterical scenes as a white drug dealer who doesn’t understand why he can’t use the N-word with his black friends.
“Dope” is a film about a lot of things ’90s, but it’s certainly a movie for millennials, from the way it’s filmed to the witty pop culture references made. Unlike last week’s review I did about another drug dealer movie, “Fruitvale Station,” this one aims to make you laugh. Nevertheless, it still has some quality political and social context added in.
Lastly, I think much of “Dope” is about nostalgia and the idea of believing you were born in the wrong era. Whether you put that in a political, musical, film or social context, I think everyone has had that feeling at one point in their lives. Being born in the ’90s, I sometimes wish I had been around to remember Kurt Cobain, Biggie Smalls, Tupac and Bill Clinton running the nation like a boss; however, nostalgia can be dangerous, dear reader, so don’t dwell on it too much.
Instead, stream this movie. It’ll put a big grin on your face. It’s raunchy. It’s funny. It’s dope.
Until next time.
In Good Movies We Trust,
Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe