Movie Review: ‘DOPE’ Lives Up To Its Title and Pulses With A Fierce Energy

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

DOPE | 115 min | R
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoë Kravitz, Blake Anderson, Rakim Mayers, Chanel Iman, Tyga, Kimberly Elise, Keith Stanfield and narrated by Forest Whitaker

Every so often you’ll run across a film during the summer that makes you remember just why you love going to the movies. Last year, Richard Linklater swept viewers away with BOYHOOD‘s vibrant sense of life and imagination. And the year before that, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash reminded us to find the sweet in the sour moments in life in THE WAY WAY BACK. Both of these films soared and were well received.

Another flick that is sure to join these two features in the success gallery is DOPE, filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa’s staggering tale that will bring back memories of your youth that you thought were erased and will have you feeling like a kid again.

This coming-of-age tale puts the audience in the shoes of Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a high school geek who is doing his best to survive in a tough neighborhood. Malcolm and his friends (Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) certainly run with the a different crowd. They spend their time playing tunes in their band, jamming old school rap records, and riding their bikes around Los Angeles. However, all changes when Malcolm meets Dom (A$ap Rocky), a successful and carefree drug dealer in Inglewood, who playfully harasses Malcolm and pulls him out of his shell. After Dom invites Malcolm to an underground party, things take a unexpected turn that could jeopardize his dreams of attending Harvard. Thus sending Malcolm and his friends on an adventure where they must find a solution to their dilemma.

Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons and Shameik Moore play a trio of high school geeks in the hood of Inglewood. Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons and Shameik Moore play a trio of high school geeks in the hood of Inglewood. Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Famuyiwa, the writer-director who penned 1999’s dazzler THE WOOD, crafts another fine script here rooted with relatable characters and enriched with creative dialogue and commentary. Famuyiwa clearly has a firm knowledge and understanding of the plight and emotions that surface in the self-building years of adolescence. He is a filmmaker to keep your eyes on, as he is destined to pen new and exciting features in the future.

DOPE brings together a talented cast of actors, including new kid on the block Shameik Moore (JOYFUL NOISE), who, as Malcolm, carries the movie to great heights on his shoulders. He shows the value of a kinetic and kindhearted character and how that can get the audience’s sympathy regardless of any behavior he may have throughout the narrative. Moore is phenomenal and also a talent to follow. Look out for his upcoming television series THE GET DOWN, about the start of the hip hop scene in the ’70s. I’m sure he’ll continue to do wonders.

The supporting players in DOPE are also worthy of note, especially Revolori (THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL) and Clemons (EYE CANDY) as Malcolm’s best buds, Jib and Diggy. Revolori adds yet another role to his repertoire of loveable characters, earning every laugh he makes along the way. And the equally as great Clemons breathes life into a character we feel we know and want to kick-it with. The duo generate sparks and turn in performances that should have filmgoers laughing out of the seats.

While summer is generally the time of superhero adventures, fast cars and explosions, it is refreshing to feast your eyes on a film that doesn’t offer big action scenes or special effects— just superior writing with skilled actors and filmmakers who are capable of bringing a realistic story to life. So put DOPE on the top of your list of movies to see over this weekend. It lives up to its title and pulses with a fierce energy that is unforgettable.

DOPE is back in theaters this Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.