SYNOPSIS: A critical hit and audience favorite out of the Sundance Film Festival, in DOPE, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.
“DOPE” (or better yet, Nerdz 'N the Hood) is a comical 90’s inspired coming of age adventure: Think “Superbad’ meets “Friday” or “Half-Baked,” with writer-director Rick Famuyiwa who brought us 2002’s “Brown Sugar,” now trying his hand at what appears to be on the surface, as just another knockoff of a typical urban-themed teen movie infused with drugs, rap and gangs, etc. And though each of those elements are present here, you would be little surprised to know that it does present some dazzling, smart, fresh and original material. It’s not unique by any means in concept, but this coming-of-age comedy pops off the screen and bursts with energy, partly due to a terrific cast right down the line to its narrator Forest Whitaker, who is also a producer with Nina Lang Bongiovi. Then there’s a great soundtrack with new songs from likes of Pharrell Williams and others. Famuyiwa also fills the screen with inventive directorial touches that keeps the film from being just another chaotic paced teen gang flick.
The story seems to bring a little deeper substance than its pop culture throwback shell, featuring high school characters with complexity and authenticity played by a trio of amazing young up and coming actors. Relatively newcomer Shameik Moore gives a breakout performance as Malcolm, while we get to see more of the wildly talented Tony Revolori, probably best known as Zero from Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Cutie, Zoe Kravitz (Divergence, 2015) delivers on all levels and balances the quality of the performances quite well.
Overall, “DOPE” is somewhat original in its approach while being typical for the most part and is well directed from start to finish, with a few flaws along the way that causes the story to drag at times. It’s a story that encounters several socioeconomic issues, with few dull moments at times, but with the humor that correlates with all the dramatic scenes. If the story was tweaked a bit to suit the masses, I would imagine that it could gain better ratings, but for now, I think three out of five stars is well deserved here and though it’s a pretty good flick, I would not encourage anyone to spend the money on a theater visit, but more like a RedBox rental.
By Movi-Man Stan
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