Cinematic Releases: Dope

Dope hit theaters tonight. Find out what we thought.

" '80s. '90s. BMX never goes out
of style, yo."
A film that could have carried the weight of a culturally relevant message ends up buried in the muck of a story that never finds focus despite an extremely strong first chapter. Dope is a modern day tribute to '90s hip hop culture that ends up mixing too many ideas into a story that should have been a straightforward dramatic comedy with tones of a younger Spike Lee and other iconic directors of that era. As the core idea of Dope plays out over the first forty five minutes, it becomes quickly apparent that the story was never quite ready for the screen. 

Bouncing between a great setup about three teenage hip hop geeks, a drug deal gone bad, entrance exams for Harvard, and miscalculated characters that should never have been introduced, Dope is a strange misfire that needed more time in the editing room and a second set of eyes on the ever expanding script. And to release this movie during blockbuster season is another confusing misstep that will surely see this thing get destroyed by Inside Out and Jurassic World this weekend. Dope finds a footing early on but ends up shifting too many times, ultimately losing momentum throughout.

From the trailers, Dope looked like it would be an entertaining coming of age tale that would pay respect to its predecessors. In some aspects it hits some high marks with awesome acting, an excellent throwback soundtrack, and some perfectly timed comedic performances. Unfortunately, director Rick Famuyiwa tries to cram too many ideas into his movie, causing the run time to expand while the sum of the story falters under the weight of non-essential elements that do nothing to move the plot forward. Through uncomfortable non-erotic moments to an uninspired Roger Guenveur Smith trying to relive his King of New York glory days, Dope is a muddled mess that should have stuck to one theme. 

"Tell me I look like my mom again
and I'll beat your black ass."
All the actors in Dope outperform the messy writing and directorial blunders. Shameik Moore offers a high energy performance as the main character Malcolm as his supporting stars, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), bring a natural friendship dynamic to the screen. But the real star of the show here is Zoe Kravitz. Looking like a beautiful and inspiring spitting image of her mother (Lisa Bonet) in the '80s hit The Cosby Show, Kravitz absolutely becomes a leading lady with Dope. If anything significant comes out of this film's confusing release, it will be her star finally shining brightly with bigger, better roles. 

I really wanted to like Dope. At the core, there's a solid foundation for an enjoyable movie here. With more time in the cutting room and a co-writer, this could have been a return to form for hip hop movie making. The acting serves its purpose, the music is fun to hear again, and the premise is really cool. With too much thrown in to the mix and a constant stream of unneeded story points, Famuyiwa turns in a mediocre film at best that sadly unravels its final message in a meandering conclusion that feels forced. 

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