Verdict: 3 / 5
Dope is a film that straddles the line between satire and serious slice-of-life problems that affect a troubled community and the youth in it. The result is jarring rather than entertaining, however, a fun ‘90s aesthetic, decent acting and a well-chosen soundtrack help cover up some of those problems for the most part.
Malcolm (Moore) is a young black high-school student in a run-down neighborhood in Inglewood California. Smarter than many of his peers, he aspires to go to Harvard. Obsessed with the ‘90s, his counselor feels that his entrance essay focusing on the work of Ice-Cube doesn’t show enough maturity, and schedules an interview with a Harvard alumnus to help get him in. As the important date approaches, Malcolm gets caught up in a drug war between rival gangs that threatens everything he’s worked for.
The sections of this film that show us the daily life of Malcolm and his friends are by far the best: the comedic, satirical element is in full view when Malcolm describes his hobbies and we see how different he is from the other kids, and how being different makes him a target in various ways. The analogy of the flower that rises too high getting cut down seems appropriate here. Malcolm and his friends have a band, with the music being written by Pharrell, and it feels so authentically ‘90s that it must be seen to be believed.
However, the addition of the drug plot is where the movie loses steam for me. Its details are rather generic, and the entire feeling throughout is an overbearing school video that tries to tell you that if you go to parties you will eventually do drugs and go to jail and ruin your life. It’s a bit heavyhanded and full of clichés.
The cast is well chosen from throughout the world of music, film, and modelling, and the overall setting is interesting and draws you in. I just wish Dope’s plot was a bit more ambitious in its efforts.