“Dope” Is Really Dope
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Seems like only yesterday I used to see Lenny Kravitz and his then-wife Lisa Bonet in the elevator of a friend’s apartment building on Christopher Street in New York City. They usually had their infant daughter Zoë with them.
Now Zoë’s all grown up and one of the stars of “Dope,” a hot new indie film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Dope has many meanings here. The drug (know as “Lily” in this story). A dummy (the straight-A student caught up in a drug deal). And “excellent” or “cool” (which this film certainly is).
Here we have Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a smart kid who wants to go to Harvard, but his school counselor calls the idea arrogant. After all, Malcolm and his pals Jib and Diggy (Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) live in The Bottoms, a down-and-out area of Inglewood, California.
They get invited to a drug dealer’s b’day party at a nightclub, a reward for talking a pretty girl named Nakia (a grown-up Zoë Kravitz) into attending the bash. But rival dopers shoot up the club, and Malcolm escapes with the dope unknowingly in his backpack.
How does he get the molly back to the dealers without getting shot? How does he avoid being seduced by Jaleel’s sexy sister Lily (Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman)? How does he convince Nakia that he’s not like all the other druggie guys? How can he trade the dope for an admissions to Harvard?
These are the challenges Malcolm faces in “Dope,” a subversive coming-of-age film from Rick Famuyiwa, a first generation American of immigrant Nigerian parents, who went to USC with intentions of becoming a lawyer and ended up in film school.
“I made ‘Dope’ as an homage to the many amazing independent and studio films of the 1990s that rewrote the rules of mainstream entertainment.” He cites “Boogie Nights,” “Jackie Brown,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Menace 2 Society,” and “Kids.”
“I pretty much just tried to steal as much as I could from them,” Famuyiwa says.
What we really have here is a black John Hughes, shifting the teen comedy scene from wealthy Chicago suburbs to the hood. And his trick is getting us interested in these kids -- a clique of nerds devoted to ‘90s hip-hop music -- who are as far cry from Molly Ringwald and her friends as The Bottoms is from Harvard.