Pharrel Williams and Forest Whitaker are the producing forces behind Rick Famuyiwa’s Cannes (Queer Palm) & Sundance (Grand Jury Prize) nominated Independent film, Dope. It should be noted that the film did go on to win Sundance’s award for Editing. Dope focuses on the lives of three 90’s hip hop obsessed high school senior geeks who live in a hood called “the Bottoms” in Inglewood, California. The group is led by Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and includes best pals Tig (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) who all focus on good grades, high SAT’s, and their newly formed punk rock band Awreeho, in order to survive the hood. When Malcom finds his way into an underground party for local gang member Dom (A$ap Rocky), things get out of control and he’s stuck with a bag of drugs that he must unload. Malcom and his friends enlist the help of Will (Blake Anderson, Workaholics) a neo-hippie that has a keen sense of online business. Walking this tightrope is no easy feat and this is where Dope really takes off and the adventure begins. With a soundtrack that highlights some of the best 90’s hip hop and four original songs written by Executive Producer Pharrel Williams, the fun, frenetic pace to Dope does not disappoint to say the least.
Forest Whitaker produces and narrates this rare coming of age movie, set in the back drop of a crime filled community riddled with gangs and drug dealers. Dope is a modern day twist of Boyz in da Hood in the sense that instead of focusing on all the negative attributes of the hood, it focuses on three geeks who are forced to use their wit, intuition & ultimately, their intelligence, in order to survive the harsh realities of their community. Although there are some tense moments that highlight some of the harsh realities that the three teens face, it never shies away from humor, sometimes to the point of absurdity. It’s both refreshing and exhilarating. Although the set up is a bit cliché, the trip is anything but. Famuyiwa mixes up time periods in both style and score, and delivers something colorful, exciting and often hysterical.
Forrest Whitaker’s narration was a bit inconsistent. It never really felt like it served the script as it may have been originally intended. For example, the movie opens with Whitaker’s narration, yet by the middle of the movie, the narrator seems to vanish in the ether and is nowhere to be found (or heard). The acting and directing in Dope are what makes this independent movie shine. The three main leads (Malcolm, Tig and Diggy) all display a talent and likeability that should garner them a lot more work to come. Famuyiwa displays a fairly deft hand in bringing this together, never letting his film lose its sense of urgency or humor. Although the final monologue feels a little soap boxy, its last line definitely drives an important point home. This is one worth watching, it snuck into theaters this summer without much fanfare, drowned by a sea of Hollywood Blockbusters. So try Dope, you’ll like it… a lot.
BLU RAY EXTRAS: If you are looking for additional features & bonus material on the Dope Blu-Ray DVD release, unfortunately, you will be disappointed. The Dope Blu-Ray offers two little featurettes, one on the movie itself and the other on the music in the movie. That’s it. Outside of these two little offerings, you will find nothing more; no commentary track, no gag reel, no “behind the scenes”.
SOUND: The sound transfer on this disc is excellent and the soundtrack that Pharrel put together is a fantastic mix of mostly 90’s hip hop with a splash of some original work he did for the film’s factious pop punk band Awreeoh.
PICTURE: The quality of the picture transfer is solid, although the film is colorful, the cinematography isn’t what stands out in Dope.
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
Run Time: 104 mins
Genre: Comedy, Drama