Wednesday, 3 February 2016


There seems to be a largely nostalgic affectation for hip-hop at the moment. With the brilliant Straight Outta Compton in particular, audiences have been loving the 80s and 90s hip-hop scene. And of course, people have always loved teen films - with a special place in their hearts for those focusing on the ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’. So Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, which is out now on DVD, should tick a lot of people’s boxes!

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school student and ‘geek’ obsessed with 1990’s hip-hop culture, frequently pushed around with his friends Jib and Diggy. They live in ‘the Bottoms’, a part of Inglewood in California, and have a rather normal existence. Malcolm’s dream is to go to Harvard but he’s labelled arrogant for this, and told he’ll never be able to go. At this point in the film – if you’re going in blind, anyway – you assume that this is the film. A nice coming-of-age story about a young man fighting to get accepted into Harvard. In a way, that makes up a big part of Dope. But the film does play with your expectations a little, and throws a curveball when Malcolm, Jib and Diggy unintentionally end up with a bag full of drugs and find themselves in the middle of an increasingly violent situation between gangsters, drug-smugglers and stoners. Sure, we’ve all seen this sort of thing before but never really with a ‘geeks and nerds’ vibe. And certainly not in an environment like this. Think The Inbetweeners meets Boyz N The Hood meets Pineapple Express.

The first thing to discuss in Dope is the fantastic performances. Shameik Moore steals the show as Malcolm, but special mention should definitely go to Kiersey Clemons as Diggy and Tony Revolori (last seen in The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Jib. Their chemistry is perfect and their friendship believable, especially when they jam together in their punk band Awreeoh. Their relationship is the heart of the film but we spend most of our time with Malcolm - even briefly joining him in the most intimate and personal alone time a young man can have. And there’s some stuff in the film of him trying to win the girl of his dreams, but this felt somewhat irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Still, the first half of the film is great. It oozes pure nostalgic style with its 90s costumes, music and vibe. It’s funny, entertaining and tense when it needs to be. It builds and builds until…oh.

Dope’s second half lets it down. The narrative became a little too far-fetched and rushed which certainly didn’t help - but that’s not even the main issue. What is? Well, the film ends on a large political statement about race, and while I agree it has some strong points, it felt very jarring. It’s delivered in an almost fourth-wall-breaking manner and while it is a strongly made sequence, it just feels like it’s from another film. It seemed like a bit of an aggressive in-your-face opinion – one that has divided audience opinion up and down the land. Maybe in a social documentary this sort of ending would be powerful, turning a mirror onto the audience and making them truly think about the race problems that continue to exist. But at the end of a fun film like this? It just left a sour taste in the mouth. You could argue the whole film is a somewhat satirical social commentary, commenting on how people living in that sort of environment have less opportunities for the future. But first and foremost, the film was a fun comedy-thriller and to make it political felt forced.

Still, Dope is an entertaining film. I had a lot of fun with it, thanks to the killer soundtrack and nostalgic style of the film which felt like a true love letter to a bygone era. The performances across the board are great too, with an incredible breakthrough performance from Shameik Moore who I am sure we will be seeing more of in the coming years. Give it a go – the first half alone is worth watching the film for.

Dope doesn’t quite live up to its title – at least, not in the context Dr. Dre might use the word at the end of the song Straight Outta Compton – but it’s still a pretty entertaining film with a lot going for it. 3/5.


Sam Love

Dope at CeX

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