Drawing on sources as varied as 1980s Spike Lee, 1990s Quentin Tarantino and Risky Business is bound to result in something at least a little fragmented, but in Dope it's often a lot of fun watching those fragments drift and find their shape.
Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a geeky, straight-A high-school senior trying to carve out his own identity on the rough streets of Inglewood, California. But he stumbles into a situation where a load of drugs ends up in his backpack, making him first a target, then eventually an impromptu entrepreneur.
Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa digs deep into the smart dialogue of his 1990s-hip-hop-obsessed protagonists, including a few classic exchanges pivoting around everything from drone strikes to who is and isn't socially permitted to use the "n-word" to the definition of a "slippery slope." At the Sundance Film Festival this past winter, Famuyiwa's film was highly sought after and was said to have been the subject of an intense bidding war for distribution rights. Even given the subject matter, Dope is now playing in most theaters.
Famuyiwa, a veteran writer and director with a long list of black-centric romantic comedies to his credit, tries to keep a whole lot of plates spinning: exploring African-American youth who don't fit the mold; trying to make a romantic subplot work; playing with social-media culture; and so on and so forth, all while driving the basic Malcolm-turns-dealer narrative. The lively performances and funky comic energy keep it moving forward, even as it's busily hopping all over the place. ♦