Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Movie Review: "Dope" (2015)

© Open Road Films

Have you ever watched a movie and wished it had less plot? Most of the time, a lack of plot is a major detriment—characters interacting aimlessly while nothing of note ever happens. One exception to this rule, off the top of my head, is Clueless, which successfully forges through an entire story in which meeting and watching the characters is enough to keep us coming back for more. A plot is secondary at best, and distracting at worst.

What I mean to say here is that I wish Dope, in theaters now, was more "Clueless in the 'hood" than "Mad cap drug caper." Overladen with various plots of vacillating importance, the most interesting aspect of Dope's delightful cinematic approach is its characters, not its conflicts. These characters, highlighted colorfully in the film's trailer, suggested a film full of fish-out-of-water fun about a group of high school friends living in the Inglewood neighborhood, the Bottoms. Self-proclaimed "geeks" obsessed with 90's hip-hop culture, they navigate their crime-ridden neighborhood with seasoned humor, rocking old school fashions, listening to vintage vinyl, playing in a punk/hip-hop band, and getting good grades.

The mere idea of following these three kids around for two hours of personality revealing hijinks was enough to get us all into the theater. It surprised me to learn that this uncomplicated but unique concept was then shoehorned into a rag-tag plot about innovative drug trafficking and bitcoins. The expectations set up in the first 20 minutes were immediately sidestepped as our hero, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two delightful friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), find themselves in possession of three bags of the street drug "Molly", getting in over their heads right quick. As a result, the characterizations—so carefully constructed and masterfully portrayed (I especially fell in love with Diggy's androgyny)—were tossed aside while Malcolm figured out just what he was gonna do with all this dope. Oh, and still ensure he gets into Harvard.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I did; a lot, in fact. Mainly because the dialogue between this group of friends and the people they meet is whip-smart. A$ap Rocky's appearance as an unlucky drug dealer was wonderful, but it was right after his introduction and immediate departure that the movie takes a left turn, never getting back on track. It gets distracted trying to do too much, too fast. Story lines branch off from each other willy-nilly, never to intersect again. Zoë Kravitz makes her way into Malcolm's life as his long-time crush and A$ap Rocky's girl, but with the plot taking Malcolm into completely new directions all the time, trying to keep her engaged with him comes off forced and awkward. It also takes Moore away from the winning dynamic established with Clemons and Revolori, despite their encouraging him to get alone time with her when he can. Giving Malcolm a love interest doesn't make his story more interesting, and it certainly doesn't help the film.

There are these special moments where you think "Maybe we're getting back to the fun stuff...", like when the group starts jamming with a wealthy wannabe producer (maybe they're about to find quirky music fame?), or when they brainstorm computer hacking with Blake Anderson, but all of these moments and plot off-shoots are short-lived, never explored. Why even tease us like that if it doesn't matter in the long run? The main plot's random segways take away from what is most enjoyable about the film.

Dope won't be taken down by its flaws, though, and it will enjoy a lot of love from audiences for bringing a fresh perspective to an otherwise cliche story. And even with its wholly satisfying ending, I just can't shake that it's too bad they went with that story at all.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars


  1. Everyone is really great. Zoe Kravitz? probably the best I've ever seen her.

    1. I recently saw her in Good Kill -- the movie was only alright, but she was stellar. I wish she'd have had a more significant role in Dope; she was underutilized I felt.

      Thanks for your comment!


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