Review – “Dope” is a Wild and Brilliant Urban Tale

On paper, “Dope” sounds like a movie we have all seen before.  An urban teen struggles to stay out of the gang life and pursue a better life outside of the projects.  We have seen it in “Boyz ‘n’ the Hood”, “Menace II Society” and countless other movies.  But what writer/director Rick Famuyiwa has done is something special.

“Dope” is a unique vision on a classic tale.  It’s a funny, entertaining, gripping, wild ride with stellar performances and a great soundtrack.

Trying to summarize “Dope”‘s plot into a paragraph is impossible.  There is so much happening during this movie, if I explained it all, I would give away major plot points and twists and it would also be far too long.  But,  will summarize it to this.  Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is an ultra smart geek with perfect SAT scores who is trying to survive in a tough L.A. neighborhood with ambitions to get into Harvard.  Malcolm and his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are new age hipsters who love 90’s hip-hop music and fashion, with hightop fades and retro Jordans.  One night, the crew goes to a drug dealer’s birthday party and after a fight breaks out, Malcolm is thrown into a series of wild events as he is unassumingly given a stash of drugs.

Shameik Moore is a star in the making, giving an impressive first time performance. He convey’s Malcolm’s innocence, grief, and awkwardness perfectly, having us feel for his struggles and really sympathize with his circumstances.  He also can spit out some pretty quick one liners like a pro.  The supporting cast is great as well.  Rapper A$AP Rocky surprises as the charmingly dangerous drug dealer Dom.  Clemons shines in her cinematic debut as the ultra tomboy Diggy and Moore, who made his debut in the masterful “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, proves his comedic chops as the light skinned friend who is 14% African, therefore giving him the right to use the “N” word.

“Dope”s success relies heavily on Rick Famuyiwa.  This is his best film to date, after making such films as “The Wood” (1999) and “Brown Sugar” (2002).  What makes “Dope” so great is the unique vision of a familiar story.  We have all seen coming of age movies before, like “The Graduate” (1969) and “Stand By Me” (1986) and we have all seen urban tales like “Boyz ‘n’ the Hood” (1991) and “Menace II Society” (1993), but never a hybrid quite like this.  Instead of the drug dealers we usually see in urban films, we are focused on high school nerds.  Instead of being set in suburban America, like most coming-of-age films, it is set on the streets of the projects.  It is also a laugh-out-loud comedy and a thrilling street film.  It is as captivating as any movie this year.  We are with Malcolm the entire ride, feeling his every emotion.  When he’s happy, we smile ear to ear.  When he’s down or reaching a point where he may fall victim to the gang life, we feel want him to get out and know that he is better than that.

“Dope” is a refreshing filmgoing experience.  It is a multi-genre film that keeps you on the edge of your seat and laughing out loud for two hours.  It features a star-making performance, a killer soundtrack featuring old school hip-hop and new songs from Pharrell, and a tightly wound screenplay that is certainly the best of the year so far.  “Dope” is one of best films of 2015.

MY RATING – 3.5/4

For more reviews and movie news, follow me on Twitter @kevinwoz2988

Image courtesy of YouTube via MovieClips Trailers.

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