In “Dope,” Shameik Moore gives a winning, sympathetic performance as Malcolm, a black teenage nerd in Inglewood, Calif., who runs afoul of gang-affiliated drug dealers and must outsmart them with a clever plan. In this he is aided by his geeky friends, black lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and white-ish horndog Jib (Tony Revolori).
Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood,” “Brown Sugar”), the film is energetic and often funny, but it suffers from several hallmarks of unpolished screenwriting. It has a narrator (Forest Whitaker) who’s only there at the beginning to give exposition, then disappears again (though he does show up again in the middle … to give more exposition). It has a protagonist whose most emphasized character trait — his love of ’90s hip-hop — is merely an affectation (some might say gimmick) with no bearing on the story. (Briefly it feels like the movie is going to comment on how much hip-hop and black culture have changed since the ’90s, but it quickly veers away from it.) And it ends with an abrupt change in tone, with the protagonist suddenly addressing the audience directly (why wasn’t he the narrator?) and declaring the movie to have been about something that it was never about. It’s like they took an urban teen comedy and slapped a Spike Lee ending on it.
It also feels a lot like someone’s first movie, even though it’s Famuyiwa’s fourth.
Nonetheless, the soundtrack is infectious, the performances are likable, and it mostly hangs together pretty well. To hear me and Jeff Bayer review it in more detail on Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider, listen below.
B- (1 hr., 43 min.; )