Dope follows three not-so-dope late teens who are more concerned with 90s pop culture – the hip-hop music and that vibrant The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air look – and getting into Harvard than they are about fitting into their neighbourhood. We’ve seen Inglewood before: an area full of people selling dope, bling to their knees. However, after Forest Whitaker’s well-read narration introducing protagonist Malcolm (Shameik Moore), things take a quick turn and the innocent trio are seduced by gangs and led down a “slippery slope” where voluminous drugs ensue.
A director with plenty of energy, Rick Famuyiwa layers punchy sequences into his film that even Tarantino would be proud of. A particular chase scene captures three linear time frames, involving cross-cutting, repeat footage and rewinding. Sometimes these pursuits are hysterical, other times they are embarrassingly overfed. Nonetheless, the cinematography and design elements are colourful and eye-catching, with marvellous attention to detail, from Malcolm’s animated t-shirts to the golden streets of Los Angeles painted in a warm opaque light.
Shameik Moore stands strong as a geek with enough feelings worthy of a little empathy. Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons are excellent as his buddies or, rather, partners in crime. The supporting cast also bring a fix, especially Zoë Kravitz who provides the sensual counterbalance to Malcolm’s adolescent fervours.
Overall the effect is good fun, and the audience’s reactions are synonymous. But, the message feels contrived and one can’t help becoming over-nourished by these representations. The superficial sinks in too soon and, even if the film is heroic in its motivation for success, such motivation should not be by way of bribery and selling drugs. The ending is farcical and even makes a fool out of the film’s own glorifications.
Many questions arise, but Dope is essentially not willing to be serious; it can only be categorised as diverting. There is also no denying its relevance in today’s marketplace (good or bad) – iPhones and social media are humming from every corner, Pharrell Williams has mastered the soundtrack and American vulgarisms are on spitting form.
Dope is released nationwide on 4th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Dope here: