Dope

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior. He and his best friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), are described by the narrator as “geeks”. They live in a neighborhood of Inglewood, California called “The Bottoms,” where there is much crime and violence. Malcolm is confident he will be admitted to his dream school, Harvard University, on the strength of his SAT scores and straight-A grades, but his school counselor calls Malcolm arrogant for thinking that Harvard would find his grades impressive, since their school is in a run-down L.A. suburb. He suggests Malcolm take the process more seriously, starting with his upcoming interview with businessman Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), a Harvard alumnus.

While biking home, Malcolm is stopped by a drug dealer named Dom (A$AP Rocky) who instructs Malcolm to invite a girl named Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) to his birthday party. Once there, Malcolm relays Dom’s request and gives her advice on her math homework. Finding him charming, Nakia tells Malcolm to tell Dom that she will only accept his invitation if Malcolm is going. Despite his initial reluctance, Jib and Diggy talk Malcolm into going to the party and taking them with him.

During the party, Dom and his crew meet in a back room to buy high-grade, powdered molly. Suddenly, the transaction is interrupted by rival gang members. Dom hides behind the bar where he finds Malcolm’s backpack, which he fills with drugs and a gun. Then he finds Malcolm, gives him the pack, and shoos away from the club just as the police are sweeping in.

Nakia drives Malcolm home. Malcolm offers to help her study for her GED test, and she says she’ll think about it. The next morning the gun in Malcolm’s backpack sets off the school metal detector, but the security guard knows Malcolm’s good reputation, lets him go and assumes that the metal detector is malfunctioning. At his locker, Malcolm looks in his backpack and discovers the drugs, gun, and an iPhone. He deduces that Dom slipped them into his bag during the shootout. Immediately, an unknown man calls the iPhone. The man reveals that he knows Malcom’s identity and whereabouts, and demands that Malcolm turn over the drugs to him after school that day. After school, Malcolm begins to undertake the handover as instructed, but is interrupted by another call, this time from Dom, who is in custody. Dom warns Malcolm that he’s being lured into a trap, and advises him to flee. He texts Malcolm an address and tells him to ask for AJ.

Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy flee to the address that Dom sent them. They find themselves at the doors of a mansion, greeted by young man named Jaleel (Quincy Brown) and his sister Lily (Chanel Iman). Since their father, AJ, won’t be home until later, Jaleel invites the three inside. Jaleel takes Jib and Diggy out to get food while Malcolm stays with Lily, who seduces Malcolm and offers to take his virginity. Lily finds the molly in his backpack and gives herself a heavy dose. She straddles Malcolm and vomits on his face. Malcolm then gets a phone call reminding him of his alumni interview. Lily offers to drive him there, though she is still high and drives recklessly through the streets until she passes out. As Malcolm desperately tries to wake her Lily springs up, yelling that she has to pee. She runs out of the car and squats to pee on a bush in front of a coffee shop while bystanders stare and record the incident. Malcolm takes her car and drives to the meeting himself.

Malcolm arrives at the office of Austin Jacoby for his interview. While waiting for Jacoby, he notices photos of Dom, Lily, and Jaleel in the man’s office. Realizing Austin Jacoby is AJ, Malcolm relays Dom’s instructions to deliver the drugs to him, but Jacoby denies any knowledge. Jacoby suggests that since Dom can no longer sell the drugs, it is now Malcolm’s responsibility to do so. Jacoby implies that if Malcolm succeeds, he will see to it that Harvard admits Malcolm. He then reschedules the interview, with the implication that if Malcolm has not sold the drugs by then, Harvard will be the least of his worries.

With no other options, Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy seek help from a college student, Will Sherwood (Blake Anderson), whom they met at band camp years ago, a stoner and a master hacker. Will helps the three set up a black-market online store to sell the drugs through bitcoin transactions, which are virtually untraceable. Before long, Will’s viral marketing campaign has turned the trio’s website into the go-to source for L.A. college students. He manages to link their store to a meme from the footage of Lily peeing in public.

Malcolm helps Nakia study and she opens up to him about the stress of dealing with guys like Dom. Malcolm pushes her away, accusing her of being sent there by Dom to gather info on the drugs. Offended, Nakia leaves and says Malcolm is just like all the other guys after all. The next day, he consults with Will to figure out how to extract cash from the bitcoins they’ve amassed, and he tells Malcolm that he will arrange a meeting with a money-laundering gangster named Fidel (Kap-G). The meeting goes as planned, and Malcolm leaves with a bag full of cash.

While returning with the bag of cash, Malcolm is assaulted by the school bully who quickly overpowers him and takes the bag of money. Malcolm, desperate, decides to defend himself by pulling a gun, getting the money back, and earning the bully’s respect.

Malcolm returns to Jacoby’s office and reveals that he linked the bitcoin account to Jacoby’s personal accounts. He has brought with him the bag with cash worth 10% of the earnings. Malcolm has programmed a fail-safe, if anything happens to him the money will automatically be transferred to Jacoby’s account on its own. Malcolm then insists that Jacoby get him into Harvard or lose everything to the government.

Malcolm types his college application essay. He describes two students – Student A is a music geek that plays in a punk band and gets straight As, while Student B suffers in the hood and makes money in immoral ways. He asks, “Which student do you think I am?” Malcolm waits for Nakia at the prom, but she does not show. Nakia waits for Malcolm at his home and thanks him for helping her pass her GED, gives him a pass to Six Flags, and kisses him on the cheek.

Malcolm enters his room to find a large envelope from Harvard on his bed. He opens it and looks to the audience for a moment before smiling

REVIEW:

Throwback to the 90s for a little while with me, will you? Remember the outlandish outfits and haircuts we all had? The Afro-centric culture that wanted so bad to take over? Don’t even get me started on the pop/rock scene. How about the notion that everything was “dope”, “fly”, or “fresh”? Well, Dope sort of takes that idea, but is that what the title really means?

What is this about?

In the tough neighborhood of the Bottoms, high school senior Malcolm sports his own funky style while working hard to gain admission to a top college. But his clean-cut perspective take an unexpected turn when a local drug dealer befriends him.

What did I like?

Music appreciation. Young people today just don’t seem to have any kind of respect for music that hasn’t come out in the last year or two, unless they are hipsters, then they just appreciate it “ironically”, as they say. The central characters of this film have their heads on their shoulders. Not only do they love 90s rap/hip-hop, affectionately referred to as the “Golden Age”, but they know why they like it, as compared to this filth that poisons the airwaves today. The soundtrack reflects a similar taste in music, consisting of mostly old-school hip-hop, but mixing in some rock, punk, funk, etc.

Fresh faces. If you look at the cast of this film, the only name you recognize is Zoe Kravitz. She’s a bit of an up and comer, but far from being a big star. The rest of this cast is new to the scene, including A$AP Rocky, who is mostly known to those in the current hip-hop scene. In case you haven’t noticed this year, but celebrities are dropping like flies. Soon, this epidemic, for lack of a better term, is going to reach the likes of Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, etc., and they will need to be replaced. This is why it is good to develop fresh faces. I need to some more work from this cast, but they could very well be the future of Hollywood if they play their cards right. I mean they carry this film with no name recognition. Imagine what they’ll be able to do when they do make a name for themselves!

N word. If you’ve made it this far in life without knowing the repercussions, history, and bad feelings behind the “N” word, then I truly feel sorry for you and the educational system in which you were brought up in. That being said, there is a dialogue about why certain people can use is and others can’t. Personally, I’ve always wondered why there has seemed to be a double standard. For instance, if a white guy says the word on their radio show, they’d be suspended/fired, but any other race, except maybe Asian, were to say it, and society goes about their day. Weird, huh? Well, listen to the truth being laid out about halfway in this film. Trust me, it doesn’t get too deep, there is a comedic resolution. This isn’t Dear White People or a Spike Lee joint, after all.

What didn’t I like?

Long in the tooth. Clocking at nearly 2 hrs, this isn’t an overly long film. The tone is one that bounces back and forth from comedy to drama, which works given the source material. However, it is the way the film comes to a conclusion that bothers me. I felt as if 5-10 minutes could have been cut out or perhaps the speech he gives that seemed like it came from a Spike Lee movie could have been placed nearer the conclusion, because it felt like that was the end, making the rest of the film just feel added on.

Metal detector. I have had the “privilege” of visiting to a couple of schools with metal detectors and, from what I’ve seen, they don’t care who you are when that thing goes off, they carry you to some back room somewhere. This is why it is so perplexing that they just let these kids go through with that thing going off everyday. Once or twice is ok, because that could just be a glitch, but when it becomes an everyday habit, something needs to be done. What if he had actually wanted to do something with those guns, I mean he was being bullied and having his shoes stolen, after all.

Are you gonna go my way? Zoe Kravitz’ character felt to me like the token hot chick in the neighborhood, which she was. I don’t think she has ever looked this good, almost like her mom (Lisa Bonet) in her prime. That said, when they give her character some…um…character, it opens up many possibilities for where she can go. Sadly, the filmmakers decide to have our leading man insult her and cause her to blow up on him and we don’t see her again until the end of the film. I felt as if we could have done with more of her. The audience deserves to see where her story was headed, rather than assume certain things happened to her while she was taking her GED.

Final thoughts on Dope? There are some interesting themes here. Take for instance the plight of the African-American geek growing up in the bad neighborhood, aspiring to escape to Harvard. For about the first 10-15 minutes of this film, or however long it takes for Forrest Whitaker to start narrating, one would think this is set in the 90s. For a minute or two, I questioned whether this should be set in that time period, then I see how it all plays into the plot. Back to the themes, the drug running and corrupt man in power, I forgot what his job exactly was, also was intriguing. With that said, every now and then it shows that this is an independent film, which is sure to turn some people away. Not may people are looking to watch a film that has its nose up in the air and talking down to them. So, do i recommend this? I feel like i should say yes, but I don’t think I can do that. I’m not saying one shouldn’t watch, either, though.

3 out of 5 stars

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