Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s autobiographical Sundance smash Dope is the kind of movie Judd Apatow or the late John Hughes might’ve made if they grew up in Inglewood, a fresh combination of Risky Business and a cyberworld-fueled update on John Singleton’s groundbreaking 1991 classic, Boyz in the Hood.
Impressive newcomer Shameik Moore plays Malcolm Adekanbi, a straight-A honor student, '90s rap-lovin’ nerd with a vintage Kid N’ Play pillbox fade and a single-mom bus driver, who fends off the school jocks and drug dealers while hanging with his two fellow BMX bike-and skateboard-riding outcasts, Kiersey Clemons’ androgynous tomboy Diggy (a take on Odd Future’s Syd Tha Kyd) and The Grand Budapest Hotel “lobby boy” Tony Revolori’s Jib. Just to show how out of touch they are to their peers, the three are part of a punk-rock trio dubbed Awreeoh, who jam in an empty room at their high school.
Executive produced by Pharrell Williams (who wrote Awreeoh’s original songs and provides the inspiration for Malcolm’s self-described “white” fashion sense) and Sean Combs (whose son Quincy Brown has a pivotal role as a spoiled rich kid) and produced by Forest Whitaker, the film is about getting out of the ‘hood by following your distinct path and overcoming any number of obstacles along the way.
'Dope' manages to take all the clichés of a ghetto coming-of-age story and stand them on their head.
While running an errand for the local dealer (a superbly arrogant A$AP Rocky) to his girlfriend (a fetching Zoe Kravitz), Malcolm mistakenly takes possession of a large quantity of Molly (Ecstasy), which he decides to sell online Silk Road style (via bitcoins through the Internet) with the help of designated white dude Will (Workaholics' Blake Anderson) in order to pay back the duplicitous drug kingpin Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), the Harvard alum who'll coincidentally be interviewing him for his college application.
Many mishaps ensue - including Malcolm nearly losing his virginity to supermodel Chanel Iman’s bored, drug-addled Lily. All the tools of social media are used to tell the story of an African-American kid whose favorite TV show is Game of Thrones and favorite band is obscure punk-rockers The Thermals. Featuring all of Malcolm’s vintage ‘90s faves - Naughty By Nature, Digital Underground, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, Two Live Crew - the soundtrack is also interspersed with current acts, including the film’s co-stars Casey Veggies (who gets an onscreen name check) and Zoe Kravitz’s Lolawolf.
Like Barack Obama, the film’s star also boasts a Nigerian father (just as its writer/director does), and Dope truly reflects the President in both its aspirations and courage to go against the prevailing winds in a community which often favors the outlaw over the achiever. In the midst of the annual onslaught of summer superhero movies and blockbuster sequels, Dope (in theaters now) offers a brand of comic-book charm with an optimistic, yet never sentimental, multi-cultural mix that's revolutionary in its own subtle way.