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A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Rick Famuyiwa
Written by: Rick Famuyiwa
Produced by: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker.
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, ASAP Rocky, Chanel Iman, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Kimberly Elise, Zoe Kravitz.
Narration by: Forest Whitaker.
Currently Playing At: AMC Oakview Plaza 24, AMC Westroads 14, Regal Omaha Stadium 16.
I’ve known a lot of black geeks in the short time I’ve been alive. I’ve always been surprising by how rarely they show up in movies, and the few times they’ve had it has oft been someone like Steve Urkel, a character not believable in the slightest. There’s been a push for more layered portrayals of non-white geeks, and the results have been mixed. Donald Glover is one of the more famous examples.
Speaking of Donald Glover, he’s mentioned among things white people like in the opening narration for the movie DOPE, alongside Skateboards and Manga. It’s a funny, punchy narration, coupled with good editing and solid comedic delivery. DOPE is generally a fairly likable flick, coming from relative unknown Rick Famuyiwa, who directed the limp 2010 feature Our Family Wedding. He brings a certain flair to his direction for DOPE that leads me to believe the film might have been a passion project.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore, more on him in a moment) is a geek carefully surviving life in Inglewood. He gets invited to a party by Dom (ASAP Rocky) and in the aftermath of that party ends up with a bag full of molly. He is placed in a circumstance where he must sell said molly in bulk in order to keep himself and his friends above ground. This plot allows for a lot of funny scenarios; such as Malcolm carrying drugs into school and the metal detector going off, but him being let in anyway because the security guards would never think that he has drugs.
There are a few shootouts in this movie, and they have a pace about them that reminds me of work by Quentin Tarantino. They’ve got a lot of verve, and are buoyed by the excellent editing I mentioned earlier. There’s a lot of terrific dark humor, reflecting the dangerous situations Malcolm and his friends come across that they can’t help. A lot of good nerdy humor as well, coupled with plenty of references. The film drops references to the likes of The Legend of Zelda that the average audience member would never get unless they’re fairly geeky. It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for casual moviegoers, and it’s a nice treat for those who are paying attention.
There are a lot of social justice elements in DOPE that I’d like to tackle, but it would perhaps be wise to mention that the film stands strong on its own merits. It’s a very good crime film, grounded in reality. The cinematography is gorgeous, really capturing the good side of California. Even when it looks grimy and ugly it still pops out at the viewer. It’s also a good comedy, with plenty of subtle humor that rewards the viewer for catching it. The soundtrack choices are fantastic, and factor into the 90’s feel of the movie as well as compliment the personalities of the characters. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Malcolm and Dom discussing 90’s rappers. For this brief moment they are not a geek and a thug, they are two people who know a lot about and very much enjoy hip-hop music, it’s a smart scene, handled very well.
The social justice aspects predominately regard what it’s like to for people in the black community who “talk white” to be treated and how white people treat black people who come from neighborhoods that aren’t associated with education who want to apply to college. It’s a fascinating perspective, with a monologue given at the end by Moore that is outstanding. It’s a film that not only provokes thought about race, it demands it.
The acting is pretty consistently great. Moore is fantastic as this very geeky guy, part of this is due to his face being unassuming; he looks like an innocent kid who is out of his element. Tony Revolori (the lobby boy from THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) gives a grounded, charming performance. Other standouts are Channel Iman, Kimberly Elise, Blake Anderson, and Kiersey Clemons.
DOPE is not without its flaws. There are several aspects of the plot that are overly convenient. The white people can occasionally become grating to listen to (even beyond it being intentional). These flaws however, are minute, and would not ruin the experience for somebody seeing this at a matinee. DOPE is one of 2015’s more unique films, and it’s worth supporting.