Malcolm and his friends Jib and Diggy are self-proclaimed geeks who live in a suburb of Los Angeles. Bullied at school for his shoes and chased by drug dealers for his bike, Malcolm gets good grades, has near perfect SAT scores, and hopes to be accepted to Harvard. He and his friends like '90s hip-hop but play uplifting songs in their punk band Oreo. They tease each other, they talk about sex, and they swear a lot. Then one day Malcolm gets called over to chat with a local drug dealer, meets the girl of his dreams, and before he knows it, he's dodging gunfire and discovering he has a backpack full of drugs that he needs to sell.
If you strip the plot down to its basic level, it's your take a guy and put him into a situation that is outrageous, dangerous, and way outside of his normal routine. It's reminiscent of Risky Business, After Hours, North by Northwest, and probably dozens of others. Like those notable examples listed prior though, Dope manages to take that common premise and embellish on it, not only with an intriguing story but more importantly by presenting us with interesting characters that make this a film well worth watching.
Dope is a quirky film, full of humor, music, and pop-culture references. It has laughs, but it's not a comedy. It involves drugs and violence, but it's not dark. It approaches serious themes but doesn't get preachy. It manages to weave all these things together with a coming-of-age theme that I really enjoyed.
Dope is smartly written and well acted, and Shameik Moore as Malcolm is really spot on here. From his start as a shy but confident student, he moves uncomfortably into the role of drug dealer and emerges on the other side a wiser man, having learned some valuable lessons along the way. Other standout performances from Zoe Kravitz as Nakia, Tony Revolori as James "Jib" Caldones, and Kiersey Clemons as Cassandra "Diggy" Andrews make this young cast a group of folks to watch.
I wanted to be sure to mention the music. As someone who isn't well versed in the hip-hop culture, I really enjoyed how the music was used in the film. It's clear that a lot of thought went in to what plays and when, and the song's lyrics often help convey theme elements. Musician Pharell Williams served as executive producer here and his influence can really be felt.
Dope isn't perfect; there are times when you get the feeling that maybe they were trying a bit too hard, but for a movie that I went into with no foreknowledge nor expectations, I was really glad that I had taken the time to watch it, and really. what more could you want from a movie.