×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Dope’

Rick Famuyiwa's indie-est project since 'The Woods' is a buoyant teen caper comedy that's one of this year's brighter Sundance commercial prospects.

With:
Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Keith Stanfield, De'Aundre Bonds, Roger Guenveur Smith, Blake Andeson, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Forest Whitaker, Quincy Brown, Rick Fox, Amin Joseph, Ashton Moio, Chanel Iman.

Sure to be one of the buzzier commercial prospects coming out of Sundance this year, “Dope” is a buoyant teenage caper that has at least as much in common with John Hughes-style high-school comedies as it does with most ‘hood narratives involving drugs, gangs and crime. That mix risks silliness at times, but there’s so much playful energy and wit to Rick Famuyiwa’s indie-est project since “The Wood” (1999) that few viewers will mind. A soundtrack featuring new songs by Pharrell Williams will be a big plus in promoting a film that might conceivably fall between arthouse and mainstream camps theatrically, but should play well to any wider audiences it reaches.

High-school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) embodies one cliche demographically: He’s a poor black Los Angeleno supported by a single working mom (Kimberly Elise), his father long gone (back to Africa, in fact). But in other ways, he embodies something else entirely. He, as well as best friends Jib (Tony Revolori, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), are all about “white stuff” — meaning they like things that most in their black Inglewood neighborhood consider White People Territory, including classic ’90s hip-hop culture, BMX biking, getting good grades and miscellaneous geek fixations. They’ve even formed their own punk band. This just gets them regularly picked on by gangbangers in and out of school; going home each day, they run a gauntlet of bullying jocks, Bloods and dealers.

One of the latter, Dom (A$AP Rocky) turns a chance encounter into an excuse to use Malcolm as go-between in his attempts to woo Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), the cornrowed beauty his messenger boy was already crushing on. This results in all of the above characters intersecting at a club for Dom’s birthday party that night. When the birthday celebrant’s backroom drug deal turns into a gun melee, Malcolm scores points with Nakia by ushering her to safety. It’s not until the next day that he realizes he’s unknowingly ushered something else out — Dom stuck $100,000 worth of Ecstasy into the high schooler’s backpack.

Apprising Diggy and Jib of his predicament, Malcolm is determined to get rid of the stuff before he’s killed, or before its detection kills his hopes of Ivy League enrollment. But it turns out Dom is now temporarily behind bars, and fully armed others are already pursuing the missing goods. Instructions to hand them over to Dom’s surrogate results in a mid-film comic highlight embroiling the three youths in possible virginity loss (to Chanel Iman’s libidinous Lily), jamming in the home studio of a rich kid (Quincy Brown), fleeing a fast-food-joint shootout, and just making it to an appointment with a Harvard interviewer (Roger Guenveur Smith). After that mess, the kids decide they might as well sell the drugs themselves, using a hacker/dealer/wigger, Will (Blake Anderson) to show them the ropes, and choosing Bitcoin as their legality-evading transaction payment.

By the time that scheme has gone viral (as does the protags’ band, via YouTube), the helmer’s freewheeling screenplay has cheerfully snapped any remaining tether to reality. At this point, a movie hitherto crammed to the gills with incident overcompensates by doing a little too much preachy telling rather than showing in its last stretch, as if it weren’t already obvious that its heart is in the right place — as opposed to, you know, the blithely pro-drug-dealing wrong place. But the fun momentum of “Dope’s” breakneck plotting and snappy dialogue easily overcome any momentary attack of earnestness.

The cast, drawn from comedy, rap, TV, modeling and other spheres, is sharply on form throughout, as is Famuyiwa’s direction; the pic’s esprit is amplified by every editorial trick in the book, from split-screen to freeze-frames. Rachel Morrison’s widescreen lensing provides plenty of equally antic eye candy, abetted by colorful design contributions. The crowded various-artists soundtrack is first-rate, not least the couple songs allegedly created by the protags’ punk trio, Oreo.

Film Review: 'Dope'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2015. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: A Significant Prods. and I Am Other Entertainment presentation in association with Revolt Films. Produced by Nina Yang Boniovi, Forest Whitaker. Executive producers, Michael Y. Chow, Rick Famuyiwa, David Lonner. Co-producers, Mimi Valdes, David Grace. Co-executive producer, Sean Combs.

Crew: Directed, written by Rick Famuyiwa. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Rachel Morrison; editor, Lee Haugen; music, Pharrell Williams, Germaine Franco; production designer, Scott Falconer; costume designer, Patrik Milani; art director, Lawson Brown; set decorator, Christine Eyer; sound, Mary Jo Devenney; re-recording mixers, Craigg Mann, Laura Wiest; supervising sound editor, Mann; assistant directors, Tony Steinberg, Mark Oppenheimer; casting, Kim Coleman.

With: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Keith Stanfield, De'Aundre Bonds, Roger Guenveur Smith, Blake Andeson, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Forest Whitaker, Quincy Brown, Rick Fox, Amin Joseph, Ashton Moio, Chanel Iman.

More Film

  • Keanu Reeves stars as 'John Wick'

    'John Wick 4' Confirmed With a 2021 Release Date

    John Wick will be back in exactly two years and a day. Lionsgate announced Monday that it has scheduled “John Wick 4” for May 21, 2021. The studio made the announcement via a text message to fans: “You have served. You will be of service. John Wick: Chapter 4 is coming – May 21, 2021.” [...]

  • Krysanne Katsoolis Sets Up Viewpark With

    Krysanne Katsoolis Sets Up Viewpark With $200 Million Fund

    Veteran film industry executive Krysanne Katsoolis has launched Viewpark, which will finance, package and release high-end film and TV content. Viewpark has partnered with former Wall Street executive Keith Price’s Obsidian Asset Management to create a multi-million dollar fund for the production and marketing of its slate, Katsoolis told Variety. Obsidian, based in London and [...]

  • Elle FanningChopard Trophee dinner, 72nd Cannes

    Elle Fanning Faints at Cannes Dinner Party

    Elle Fanning, a member of this year’s Cannes jury, had a brief scare Monday night when she fainted at the Chopard Trophee dinner. Festival director Thierry Fremaux had just introduced actor Francois Civil onstage when Fanning, star of “The Beguiled” and “Maleficent,” collapsed and fell off her chair nearby. Fanning was sitting at a table [...]

  • 'Frankie' Review: Ira Sachs' American Version

    Cannes Film Review: 'Frankie'

    As a filmmaker, Ira Sachs, the director of “Love Is Strange,” “Little Men,” and (his masterpiece) “Keep the Lights On,” is like a flower that keeps sprouting new tendrils, growing ever more beautiful and complicated and delicate. His new movie, “Frankie,” may the closest that anyone has come to making an American version of an [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Stubs A-List Becomes No. 1 Movie Subscription Service

    AMC Theatres’ Stubs A-List program, which allows customers to see three movies a week for $19.95 a month, has hit 800,000 subscribers. That figure is well ahead of the original projection, announced last June, for 500,000 subscribers by the end of its first year. According to AMC, the program is now the No. 1 moviegoing [...]

  • Millie Bobby Brown on Her Feature

    Millie Bobby Brown Calls Her Film Debut in 'Godzilla' 'Kind of Unreal'

    Millie Bobby Brown is no stranger to stardom thanks to “Stranger Things,” but she still can’t believe she’s making her feature film debut in the monster reboot “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” “It’s kind of unreal,” Brown told Variety at the premiere. “I’m like, ‘What is happening right now?’ It’s so bizarre and unreal, and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content