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    Dope (2015): Movie Review

    “An overwhelmingly comical, smart and inspiring coming-of-age/underdog film.” 

    Three high-school nerds turn into smart ass drug dealers in Dope, the fourth feature of writer-director Rick Famuyiwa. With its wild energy and witty narrative, this coolly entertaining and crowd-pleasing coming-of-age comedy pays tribute to ‘90s pop culture while depicting opportunities and challenges besieging today’s adolescents.

    Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is the typical poor black high-school senior living in Inglewood, California. Abandoned by his father who went back to Africa, he is supported by his single working mom, Lisa (Kimberly Elise). Malcolm is a straight-A student and after performing impressively with his SAT tests, he is making preparations for his application to Harvard. With his flat-top haircut, vintage Air Jordans and fading high-top, Malcolm worships the ‘90s hip-hop culture. Like him, his best buddies, skiny Jib (Tony Revolori) and lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), also love BMX riding, getting good grades, doing geeky stuffs and forming their own punk band. While adults at school leave them because of their nerd status, bullies continually pick on them.

    Later, local hoodlum, Dom (A$AP Rocky), taps Malcolm and uses him to woo Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) who our hero has crush on. However, in a club party by Dom which surprisingly turns into a gunfight, the trio, especially Malcolm, scores a point with Nakia by delivering her out of the riot. The next day, much to his amazement, Malcolm discovers a gun and a $100,000-worth of Ecstasy in his backpack. The friends initially plan to return the drugs to Dom but he is temporarily behind bars. With some guys hot on their tails, they instead enlist handy man Will’s (Blake Anderson) ingenuity and sell the drugs themselves. 

    Dope is infectiously energetic and amazingly insightful. It is filled with youthful vibe to match its zany plotting. It tirelessly switches back-and-forth between aggression and goofiness but the energy and charm never fade. Its humor is erratic, broaching several subjects with social undercurrents like the hilarious encounter at the house of two rich kids (Quincy Brown, Chanel Iman) and discussions on using the N-word. Some gags reference pop culture, while others make use of technology such as the Internet sensation road pee, the dealer using Find My iPhone to track his stolen possessions, and the Bitcoin-assisted drug transactions. The film’s sharp and smart dialogues, at times snappy and pointed, also complement its generally positive and choleric disposition. If not for its easy sense of humor, the movie would have taken on a darker tone due to frequent violence and nudity. 

    Dope also excels in many technical aspects. Camera works are masterfully fluid and dynamic, adding extra flare and excitement. There are plenty of split screens and freeze-frames, providing active windows to intertwining events happening. The 1990s costume design is also superb, as well as the colourful and vibrant location. Musical score and themes, mostly upbeat and hip-hop, jive along with the film’s verve.

    Characters in the picture are likable, even made more adorable by the punchy performance of the casts. Moore, who appears in almost every frame as the mighty Malcolm, is undeniably a breakout star. He carries the role with ease and credibility as a bright student who, despite being easily intimated by girls and bullies, can outwit gangster. Revolori and Clemons also shines as Malcom’s clever partners in crime. Kravitz, in her limited screen time, delivers spunk to street-smart Nakia. Even Anderson, with his overflowing curls and boyish charm, is a welcome hysterical interlude.

    Behind the movie’s cinematic brilliance are its lingering social undertones. It has sharp observations and subliminal commentaries, particularly on importuned African-American youth. In its very heart, it speaks about dreams, expectations, aspirations and challenges. Its messages clearly narrated in Malcolm’s personal growth essay for his Harvard application towards the end of the film. 

    Dope may be another part-comedy, part-drama underdog film, but unlike the others, its lead characters are intelligently sketched, making them daring and inspiring. With its cannily-pieced narrative, almost flawless execution and head-nodding undercurrents, this is one of the best youth-oriented movies of the year. 

    Production companies: Significant Productions, I Am Other 
    Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Keith Stanfield, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Chanel Iman, De’Aundre Bonds, Roger Guenveur Smith, Forest Whitaker, Quincy Brown, Rick Fox, Amin Joseph, AshtonMoio 
    Writer-director: Rick Famuyiwa 
    Producers: Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang Bongiovi 
    Executive producers: Michael Y. Chow, Rick Famuyiwa, David Lonner 
    Co-executive producer: Sean Combs 
    Director of photography: Rachel Morrison 
    Production designer: Scott Falconer 
    Costume designer: Patrik Milani 
    Editor: Lee Haugen 
    Music: Pharrell Williams, Germaine Franco



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