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New Release Review - DOPE

A straight A student finds his path to Harvard blocked by drug dealers.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa

Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Chanel Iman, Zoe Kravitz




"Dope attempts to open a narrative on racial politics, but in unconvincing fashion, with Fumiyawa preaching tolerance while populating his story with the crudest of racial stereotypes."






Malcolm, the teenage prodigy at the centre of Rick Famuyiwa's comic crime drama, is obsessed with '90s hip-hop, in both music and fashion form. With his flat-top haircut and day-glo clobber, he sticks out among his suburban LA peers, all except his two friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). Based on the evidence of Dope, Famuyiwa seems as enamoured of the '90s as his protagonists, as his film resembles the many post-Tarantino crime comedies that proliferated during the latter years of that decade. Think Friday meets Go!
It doesn't start out that way. The first act of the film is a charming teen character drama, with three interesting and affable characters, all brilliantly played by a trio of young stars in the making. While the film is happy to simply hang out with these kids as they go about their daily business, it's a treat. When the movie turns into a generic screwball crime romp it sadly becomes a lot less interesting.
Dope attempts to open a narrative on racial politics, but in unconvincing fashion, with Fumiyawa preaching tolerance while populating his story with the crudest of racial stereotypes. The film tells us that Malcolm's prospects in life are stunted because he hails from the black LA neighbourhood of Inglewood, and will thus be pre-judged, but Fumiyawa portrays Inglewood as a cliched hell-hole, where seemingly everyone who isn't one of the three main protagonists is involved in drug dealing or gangs. We're told Malcolm stands out in the African-American community simply because he's intelligent! I can't think of a more racist notion.
Dope is the latest of far too many recent American movies to rely heavily on voiceover to get their messages across. Actually, scratch that. Very few of these movies actually need voiceovers. Dope's message is loud and clear, even if it doesn't seem to really believe it, and its Forest Whitaker voiced narration is completely unnecessary. If a filmmaker feels they need a voiceover in order for their movie to work it means they either lack confidence in their ability to tell a visual story or the audience's ability to follow said story. Either way, those of us who can follow a movie with our eyes are the ones losing out.



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