An actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his ethnicity, dreams of making it big as a highly respected performer. As he makes his rounds, the film takes a satiric look at African American actors in Hollywood.
Craigus R. Johnson,
Chinese kid Julian, who was adopted by the black family of Joe and Annabelle Lee and Asian exchange student May-Ling, who is housed with a black family, are trying to adapt to their mostly ... See full summary »
A coming of age comedy/drama for the post hip hop generation. Malcolm is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, CA filled with gangsters and drug dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews and the SAT. His dream is to attend Harvard. A chance invitation to a big underground party leads Malcolm and his friends into an "only in Los Angeles" gritty adventure filled with offbeat characters and bad choices. If Malcolm can persevere, he'll go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.
When we grow up we all have our dreams. Some want to go to college, some want to score hot babes, some want to be in a cool band, some want to be an OG, sell dope and wear a thick golden chain around their necks. And some want to shoot films about these folks.
Well, it seems to me that at least Rick Famuyiwa made his dream come true. Well, in a sense that he managed to end up behind a camera and orchestrate the action in front of it. However, being a writer/director of a film doesn't give you a magic ability to truly fit the shoes of your characters. Instead, when you make a film about someone else's dreams, it's more like a story of how you imagine those dreams would be. And, in case of Dope, that's a big difference...
We're all tired of those hardcore gangsta homies. So let's spin the story around a non-typical "nerd" black guy. He's the one who gets picked at by bullies and he's the one who actually plans to take the SATs. But that's just too flunky for the "tough" part of the target audience, so let's make our hero unlikely appealing to all sorts of women, getting in some nasty business with serious people, and eventually out-streetwise'ing them on the way to his dreams, so that it looks both generally satisfying and still unconventional. And yeah, let's make it all in style, just like we love it: a mix of Tarantino and Apatow, with a sprinkle of bling and hip-hop on top.
Well, unfortunately, some things just don't go together well, at least not if you want believability. For example, you can't make a story of a nerdy wimp who goes nose-deep into the criminal business, to the point when he's bound to ask himself whether he's still the "good guy" he used to position himself as, gets on top of the situation and comes back to the surface as nothing but the profitable stuff stuck to him.
It could've worked if Dope was trying to be Burn-After-Reading-like hilarious, because crazy things do happen when you assume that people are ridiculous. Or if Dope just remained a high-as-sh!t Pineapple-Express-kind-of flick through and through, because crazy things do happen when people are whacked out of their minds. But you don't start with the half-bizarre half-dummy approach, then go all dark and dramatic, and then go back and feed us the MC-Hammer-style dance moves during the ending credits. These numbers just don't add up.
But the true problem of this movie is not those schizophrenic mood swings of its script. It's the fact that everything we see on screen tries its best not to be stereotypical and to avoid the clichés, but ends up simply fake, as if a dope dealer and a school straight-A nerd got their bodies switched, but their minds remained the same, totally ignorant of what their counterpart's life is really about. Malcolm is a geek, but only in terms of what other people might think geeks are about. Dom and Co are shady guys, but also just what you might think of them from passing them by on the street or watching a black gang movie. Neither side of this story had enough consistency to hold its weight, and the only explanation we get is that everything's "complicated". It sure as hell is, just not in the right way!
The cherry on top of this festival of cardboard adventure is a scene with the purse maker. Every single thing you could've gotten wrong about people if you never actually cared to learn what they really do - it's all there. A fake bag maker who's also a blackmarket Bitcoin dealer. Who's also operating a computer with a two-button mouse with no wheel (it's 2015 guys, I really have no idea where the filmmakers dug up that fossil). Who's also testing his customers with a pseudo-insightful mumbo-jumbo speech and a demand of punching him in the jaw. Yes! If anything could beat a druggie who looks like a clown and moonlights as a mask-wearing pro hacker, that would be the only thing. Congrats guys, that's really dope.
The only thing this movie didn't manage to fit inside is that if you're a black man and you don't do sports, then going to Harvard is still possible even without having to deal with arms or drugs or even pop-punk bands and videoblogging. You know, you could just be normal, doing the same boring stuff the white guys do. Maybe that's not fun enough, but at least it's real. But who wants to be real when you can go with a cool flat-top afro and a bunch of funky dance moves instead, right?
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