DOPE is the perfect title for this tack-sharp 2015 comedy, as the handy word over the centuries has morphed from (1) describing people who aren’t very smart, ala ‘Dopey’ from the 7 Dwarfs or several of the characters on view here,(2) drugs (a bag of which is fulcrum of the plot) , (3) accurate info–“the straight dope”, shot through this little flick in quick flashes of insight and (4) the current fave youth adjective describing something that is attractive, fun or real–in other words, cool.
‘Malcolm’ (Shameik Moore) and nerdy pals ‘Jib’ (Tony Revolori) and ‘Diggy’ (Kiersey Clemons) dodge the thugs at large in their high school and the streets of their hood, a section of Inglewood, California (a rough part of the L.A. sprawl, for you non-SoCals ).
Chance mix-up at a party has the trio in possession of a bag of grass that has less congenial brothers demanding its return. Complicating things are a hot girl the shy Malcolm desires (Zoe Kravitz, scorch for sure,a lithe patch off mom Lisa Bonet) and the corrupt college admissions contact he must please (Roger Guenveur Smith is deadpan fun with silky menace and fake concern).
I’m a white guy in my early 60s, primarily suburban, but I’ve been around quite a bit and fancy I have a pretty good read on the bizarre mix that seethes outside the front door, yet I can only guess what it must be like to be an intelligent young person of color in modern urban America, trying to survive the mine field of bling, intimidation and societal indifference. I do remember what it was like to be a teenager—who can ever totally banish that tragicomic nightmare passage?—and from my perch it looks like writer-director Rick Famuyiwa, working under producer Forest Whitaker’s wise guidance, has very nearly nailed an African-American mini-version blending of American Graffiti, The Breakfast Club and Fast Times At Ridgemont High, having fun, both wicked and gentle, with stereotypes while not ignoring the conditions that they grow in.
Leaving the bleak free-fire zone drama of Boyz In The Hood, et.posse and the cheap obscenity-equals-hilarity swill of the Wayans-Perry pantheon, Famuyiwa, Whitaker and a great cast of new talent (we lay odds that Moore will be a star) give an entire under-served slice of the American pie a clean plate and real whipped cream for a change instead of lazy gaseous squirts from the aerosol shelf.
Just as the current turn of the word ‘dope’ has inverted a negative into positive to subvert the old order and accommodate the new, this inventive indie does its bit to take back the streets from the creeps (sorry,close as I can get to rap). Backed with a dope music score, it’s political, personal and persuasive, clever from start to finish of its 103 minutes. It made $18,000,000, and will grow in reputation. With Chanel Iman, A$ap Rocky, Blake Anderson.