Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A young man who seems to have his future already mapped out, if only he can get into Harvard, sees the potential for everything to come crumbling down around him after one night in the wrong company leads him down a path – or even a slippery slope – that looks increasingly unlikely to end with him being safe and sound, and still lacking a criminal record. Yes, Dope will be familiar to fans of Risky Business, or even The Girl Next Door (2004). What lifts it above just another attempt to revisit that premise is the fact that our lead character is enjoyably unique, in cinematic terms.
Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a smart, black student who spends his days with two good friends (played by Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) who share his hobbies and interests, which include ’90s hip hop/rap music and getting good grades at school. Which, in turn, means that he also spends a lot of time avoiding bullies, gang members, and drug dealers. Fate has other plans for Malcolm, however, and one trip home sees him crossing paths with a drug dealer named Dom (Rakim Mayers). Before you know it, Malcolm has a bag full of drugs that he doesn’t want to keep hold of, and nobody willing to take it off his hands without also damaging his health.
Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is funny, fresh, and thought-provoking. It has a lot to say about stereotypes, sometimes by playing up to them but mostly by subverting them, and occasionally allows Malcolm to speak his mind directly, forcing the viewer to question their own potential assumptions and snap judgments.
The star of the show would be the lively soundtrack, featuring a selection of classic and original tunes, if it wasn’t for the likability of the young cast. Moore is perfect in the lead role, developing believably as he puts his mind to solving the many problems suddenly facing him. Revolori and Clemons are equally enjoyable as his friends, with the former often preoccupied with the saving of his own skin while the latter just wants to make the most of any opportunity to surround herself with sexy girls. Chanel Iman provides some laughs in her relatively small role, and Zoe Kravitz adds yet another solid role to her recent selections, giving off a sweet and sexy vibe that reminded me a hell of a lot of ’80s/’90s Rae Dawn Chong (or maybe I am just being reminded of her mother, Lisa Bonet).
Although it’s not the perfect reversal of African American cinematic tropes that many are waiting for, Dope is a hell of a good starting point. And if we could have even just a few more movies like it in the near future then I would be a very happy man indeed. Until then, show your support for this one by seeing it when you get the chance and buying it when it hits the home entertainment market. You won’t regret it, because Dope is . . . . . well . . . . . . . . . dope.
Dope screened at EIFF 2015
WRITER/DIRECTOR: RICK FAMUYIWA
STARS: SHAMEIK MOORE, TONY REVOLORI, KIERSEY CLEMONS, CHANEL IMAN, RAKIM MAYERS, ZOE KRAVITZ
RUNTIME: 103 MINS APPROX