Film Review: Dope

Poster for the movie Dope

Dope Plot Summary:

A promising nerdy high school senior (Shameik Moore) from a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, along with his two friends, accidentally gains possession of a large quantity of drugs, and are forced to deal with dealers and other criminals trying to steal it, all while trying to get into college.

Movies that are unsure of what they want to be usually don’t sit well with me, and that’s what we have with Dope. Critics often complain about the abundance of blockbuster filmmaking, and automatically detest a movie based on its budget. We forget the other side of the spectrum is also flawed. A quirky indie flick doesn’t automatically mean it’s the greatest movie ever. Dope is that quintessential indie film that critics rip their clothes off and light themselves on fire in praise of its brilliance. It’s the type of film that is plastered with Grand Jury Prize At “Insert Film Festival Here.” I just wanted to get that off my chest, because I really don’t see what all the fuss is about with Dope. It’s sloppy, convoluted, and all over the place.

Photo Credit: Rachel Morrison / Distributor: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Rachel Morrison / Distributor: Open Road Films

One clever element the director (Rick Famuyiwa) throws in is the obsession with ’90s culture from our lead characters. The opening scene had me convinced this movie took place in the ’90s, so that was a neat trick. While the idea of embracing everything about that decade was a nice character trait, it didn’t add much to the overall film. You can say that about many of the elements here. Sometimes it’s about these geeks applying to college. There’s a romantic subplot that disappears in the middle of the film. The kids have a band. The movie is all over the place. When it’s focused on the main plot of the kids dealing with the dope, it’s solid, but the film takes way too many diversions. Certainly you want a movie to have a lot going on, but none of it flows together, and a big reason why is because of the tone.

Tone is one of the most important aspects to a film. All I want is consistency. You can mix genres, like Ghostbusters does with comedy and horror, but one of them is always the dominant force. The opening fifteen minutes feels like a Wes Anderson comedy in the hood, then it shifts to shock gags like in a Farrelly Brothers movie, and there are even large stretches where it’s real heavy on the drama. What the hell am I supposed to grasp here? The filmmakers desperately wanted to incorporate different feels throughout the movie, but all of them come across as half-assed.

The characters also suffer from the curse of inconsistency. Shameik Moore is a good actor, and does a good job of making you feel empathy towards Malcolm. You definitely care about him, but the screenplay is so sloppy with his character arc, I ultimately felt empty. I have no clue who this guy is by the end of the movie, and the film even contradicts itself. Malcolm gives the primary antagonist this long-winded speech at the end that is supposed to be his big moment, but it’s completely convoluted. He kind of becomes a better person, but also kind of not? The film has one foot in the deep end, and one in the shallow.

Photo Credit: Rachel Morrison / Distributor: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Rachel Morrison / Distributor: Open Road Films

Aside from the messiness of it all, it’s also really boring. Malcolm’s two friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), would occasionally pop out with a funny line or two, but that’s pretty much it. They introduce a stoner character (Blake Anderson) in the second half who would have been funny in 1995, not 2015. Maybe that’s the point though, as it’s heavy on ’90s culture, but that still doesn’t make it funny.

It sounds like I hate this film, but it has funny moments peppered throughout. I wish they kept the comedy consistent though. Aside from a fantastic soundtrack, it’s just an underwhelming movie. I hate to be that guy, but this seems like one of those times where critics felt obligated to like it because of its quirky nature and unknown cast. If this were a more mainstream film with bigger names, we’d be looking at mediocre reviews. I’m sorry, that’s just how I feel.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.