Dope : Film Review – The London Economic

By Leslie Byron Pitt @Afrofilmviewer

To utilise the vernacular that Dope uses, the soundtrack to Rick Famuyiwa’s fourth film is well…Dope. A quick glimpse of the film credits should have a viewer spy the names of Sean “Puffy” Combs and Pharrell Williams as executive producers. The film is filled with so many nineties hip-hop gems, it’s hard not to nod your head. There’s so much music, that the non-diegetic sound becomes wall-to-wall. It becomes distracting. Almost enough to forgo the films lack of freshness.

Dope; a coming of age tale dealing with a misfit group of minority geeks, who unwittingly fall into some high risk misadventures due to some smuggled drugs, starts off with a vibe similar to Reginald Hudlin’s high energy romp House Party (1990). At first it looks like the film is looking to bring the same colourful spirit. Unfortunately the film, while trying to bring across some decent and needed social commentary about young black social identity, slowly decreases in vigour and stumbles on tone.

Despite holding a well-treaded narrative, faintly reminiscent of Luke Greenfield’s The Girl Next Door (a breezy 2004 feature that in itself was stomping around Paul Brickman’s Risky Business), Dope certainly holds a few laughs with its plucky cast who, like the jokes, don’t set everything alight, but provide an adequate amount of charm. It is annoying that a so-called black nerd, who’s heavily into 90’s hip-hop, gets his history wrong when tested at the first jump. However, it’s clear that by having an aspirational, Afro-American geek who lives in the hood, Famuyiwa is clearly aiming to illustrate the various shades of blackness that often get overshadowed by the usual board black archetypes.

A pity that, when the film has a character inform us that people “shouldn’t settle for what’s expected”, Dope can only really enlighten us with a drug deal gone wrong. It’s fair that Dope is the first film this writer’s seen which depicts the new means of drug dealing economy (utilising the dark net and bitcoin) a certain amount of sharpness. Yet for all its memes and viral drug advertising, the film’s main point, about black identity, seems to gets more tangled up with its largest speaking white character, getting all antsy about whether or not they can use the word n*gga. A word appears in the film with latter day Tarantino-esque levels of usage. The scene in which occurs, is an amusing one. However, once we find ourselves at the receiving end of a monologue about black individuality from the film’s main character Malcom (Shameik Moore), it’s only then we realise that Malcom hasn’t really said too much about that very thing throughout the film.

What Malcom has done has semi-stumbled his through a glossy coming of age flick. A film which, despite some neat, enjoyable moments, is often spread thinner than the final remnants of the butter dish. Dope has unfortunately been released at a time in which, we’ve only just witnessed the fracturing of racial identity in the far superior Dear White People (2015), a superior feature which lays its cards out with far more assurance and does so with its distinct female characters intact. Something Dope ashamedly struggles with. Still, that soundtrack though. It’s certainly something that many will be able to bump to. Be it those who are down or Oreo’s.

Dope is on home release from the first week of January.

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