I love urban stories. I love high school coming-of-age films. I love hip-hop culture. I should have loved “Dope.” Nope.
Here are five questions for “Dope.”
What’s it about?
Malcolm, Diggy and Jib are three best friends who are perfectly comfortable with their geeky love of ‘90s hip-hop, retro dress code and other eccentricities. But after attending a drug dealer’s birthday party, they’re stuck with a backpack full of drugs that they’re forced to sell. All the while, Malcolm has high aspirations of escaping the hood and attending Harvard.
Sounds like fun. Is it?
At times, yes. There are some really effective sequences, such as a multiple POV shootout/chase scene set to “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest. I wanted to see more of that kind of creative unpredictability. Unfortunately the film is just all over the place. Scenes don’t transition well from one to the next and the tone is too inconsistent. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster mash up of a film made up of various ideas that together don’t really pay off. It’s a teen comedy. Then it’s a drug war film. Then it’s a coming-of-age film. Then it’s a sex romp. It’s like the film itself is on drugs and can’t focus on any one thing.
And perhaps that’s where I had the wrong expectations going in. I was hoping for a zany, funny adventure, where stupid but amusing and charming characters get in over their heads and have to get out of all sorts of pickles. I was looking for some “House Party” mixed in with the stoned out feel of “Friday” and the high school hijinx of “Class Act.” Sadly, “Dope” doesn’t stand up to any of these films. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments here and there, but the film drags terribly between those moments.
How’s the soundtrack?
The music is the best thing about the film (other than the old school high top fade that Malcolm sports). Nineties hip-hop classics such as “Hip Hop Hooray,” “Scenario” and “Slam” pepper the film and had me bobbing my head and tapping my feet.
Besides the retro hip-hop music, I did love the individual characters, especially the three friends. Shameik Moore does a convincing job of playing a geek who is also ambitious enough to sell drugs and carry a gun. Kiersey Clemons is fun as his lesbian BFF and Tony Revolori, who also displayed his comic chops in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is fresh as Jib, who provides much of the comic relief. But this is clearly Malcolm’s film, and his two friends are quickly relegated to background status.
After hearing that “Dope” was the festival darling at Sundance, I certainly had high hopes for the film to fill a growing void in Hollywood for quality black films. Sadly, there’s no hope in “Dope.”