Up-and-coming filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is a clever, well written, and directed picture with a fine cast and a plot that is complex and engaging enough to keep the audience pulled right in. Television and film (Joyful Noise) star Shameik Moore as Malcolm nails his character, a young black high school nerd with a high crew cut (I suppose that’s what it’s called) and a big enough brain to impress/puzzle anyone standing near. This is all done seemingly unselfconsciously; the words just roll right off his tongue. He has two perfectly loyal (and entertaining) sidekicks almost as bright as he is. Diggy (Clemons) is a Lesbian who everyone thinks is a boy. Jib (Revolori) is Hispanic, but with 14% African-American blood, he identifies as black so, as brought up in the film, he has permission to use the n word.
Malcolm lives in “The Bottoms” with his single mom in Inglewood, CA, in a poor projects neighborhood, and goes to a school where getting your shoes stolen by the leader of a gang is an everyday occurrence. Drug dealer Dom (Mayers) stops him on the street one day and instructs him to ask a young woman (Zoe Kravitz as Nakia) to come and talk to him. Malcolm being respectful of his elders does so and serves as their messenger back and forth, but in the process becomes totally smitten by her. She’s a tease, and when Dom invites her to his birthday party, she tells Malcolm she’ll go if he does. Malcolm is leery, but his friends push him to go, and they do, although they have to sneak in since they’re underage.
The party turns into a fiasco with the cops raiding the place, and the three students barely getting out, and then the next day Malcolm finds some important objects have been put in his backpack, which Dom has shoved at him before Dom is arrested and put in jail. Getting the contents to where they’re supposed to go involves more planning and maneuvering than anyone would have dreamed of, but it all comes from Famuyiwa’s creative mind.
A good part of the film is its going against black stereotypes, such as the three friends desperately wanting to go to college (Malcolm to Harvard) and willing to make any sacrifice to avoid anything standing in their way. At the same time, it also delves into the reality of what African-Americans are up against today. Case in point is an advisor at school point blank telling Malcolm to forget about Harvard—that he’ll never get in given where he has come from and the high school he has attended.
Shameik Moore surely will have a future in film with his eye-catching looks and delivery, dancing ability, and music talent (he is on several songs in the film which were recorded with Pharrel Williams, and his own new album will be released soon). He will appear in the second season of Baz Luhrmann's Netflix series “The Get Down”, set to air in 2016. In Dope, the interactions among the three friends is always entertaining apart from all the intrigue going on around them.
A smart film that young people will love. Caution: R-rated.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland