"Dope" the movie is, for a lack of a better word...dope.
I don't mean dope as in the movie is dopey, far from it. I mean the movie is dope.
Imagine a John Hughes high school movie taking place in inner city Los Angeles instead of the Chicago suburbs. Imagine that movie is mixed in with "Menace II Society" and a dash or two of "Pulp Fiction" and "Grand Theft Auto." Now put all of those ingredients into a blender and serve. That's "Dope." Now, I hate saying that a movie is just a sum of pop culture's parts, but the real magic trick to "Dope" is that despite the similarities, this is a movie that stands on its own. Its so hard these days when a filmmaker makes a movie and highlights his inspirations and influences but still makes a movie that so confident, so urgent, so full of passion that it doesn't feel ripped-off, this doesn't feel like pieces of other movies. "Dope" is a masterful creation from a masterful concoction and I had lots of fun watching it.
Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a senior high school student who lives in Inglewood, California. Malcolm is one of the smartest people in his class, and for this and many other reasons, he is picked on everyday. Malcolm, along with his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) have a punk rock band. Malcolm's favorite TV show is "Game of Thrones." Plus, he and his friends are so obsessed with 1990's rap music that they dress like they are living in the 1990's. Because of their appearance and their devotion to "white people stuff," Malcolm is often ridiculed. He lets it slide off his back though, because he's going to Harvard once he graduates, or so is the plan after high school.
One day after school, Malcolm (quite by accident) runs into a drug dealer named Dom (A$AP Rocky). The two make small talk, and Dom likes the way Malcolm talks rap music, Dom makes Malcolm be his messenger for a girl named Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). This gets Malcolm and his friends invited to Dom's birthday party. While Malcolm and his friends party the night away and how Malcolm begins a blossoming, puppy-love romance with Nakia, the police raid the party, but Malcolm gets away. The next day at school, he finds that Dom hid drugs and a gun in Malcolm's bookbag.
The rest of the movie finds Malcolm trying to steer the drugs clear of Dom's competitors. Also Malcolm gets driven to his Harvard interview by a naked woman, all of which leads Malcolm to the revelation that his interviewer is also a drug dealer connected to Dom, and the interviewer will get Malcolm into Harvard if he sells the drugs in a few weeks time. Did I mention that the movie is narrated by none other than Forest Whitaker, who also produced the movie?
Does it sound like a wild trip? Good, because it sure is. The thing is, unlike something like "Spring Breakers," "Dope" never tries to be anything its not. This isn't a poser of a movie, its a smart movie with something to say. "Dope" is highly entertaining from start to finish, featuring moments of humor as well as moments of genuine humanism. One thing is also for sure about "Dope," it is all around unpredictable. I never knew what really was going to happen next, what situation the trio would be in next, who would they meet, would they get in trouble? It didn't work like a normal troubled kid gets in over his head type of movie, so it left me off-balanced. Which in this case, was just what I needed.
The film also highly benefits from its stellar cast of mostly unknown's. Zoe Kravitz is possibly the biggest name out of the young cast, and she's good here. But in every single scene, you are drawn to Malcolm and Shameik Moore deserves mad credit for bringing this character to life. I can't tell you a single thing about Moore as an actor, all I know is that I was invested in the movie because the entire thing rested on his shoulders, and he sold it. He sold it well. He bounces off of Revolori (who you might recognize from Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Clemons. They create a friendship that seems human, seems real, never once artificial. This is a movie that is navigated by its performances, and each actor throws themselves at their role.
Sometimes meaningful, sometimes important, and sometimes funny, "Dope" is a real watermark on 2015. It has a magnificent soundtrack that will have you tapping your foot all movie long. But the secret weapon is the work done by its three leads. Without these leads, the movie would have gone nowhere. That's the power of performance for you!
FINAL GRADE: A