Dope: NZFF Review
Mixing Boyz'n'The Hood, Run Lola Run and Malcolm in the Middle, Dope's sensibilities tend more towards the goofy rather than the fully dramatic.
It's the story of three 90s hi-hop obsessed geeks, stuck in high school and who find themselves stuck in a drug deal gone wrong by circumstance. Their misadventures mean their leader Malcolm (Shameik Moore) finds himself on a coming of age journey that's both dangerous and hilarious.
Dope is entertainingly breezy and circumnavigates the trio of meanings given to the word by a dictionary definition on screen as the film begins.
By turns, its screwball comedy, violence and depiction of street culture is perhaps something we've seen time and time again, but thanks to an update of the Risky Business ethos within, it manages to be something that feels as fresh as Will Smith was way back when he hit Philly.
It's largely in part to Moore that the film works as his wide-eyed innocence goes from zero to full blown hero during the flick's hijinks. But despite the occasional escalating farce, the blast of reality is never far away from Rick Famuyiwa's movie - gun culture features as prevalently as the comic tones do in this portrait of life in Inglewood.
At times though, there are moments when the freshness of the film starts to wear off and a more uneven edge starts to creep in - and it slips into Boyz'n'The Hood sensibilities and stereotypes with ease - there's certainly objectification of women throughout and the film could have perhaps have done with less of that perpetuating of stereotypes as it successfully blazes a trail through race.
As mentioned, it's Moore who excels though - a moment that needs to have his character step up in the worst possible way proves devastating by Moore's acting, his aching vulnerability and blazing new found bravado conflicting in his eyes conveying more than any dialogue ever could.
The film's ultimate message though seems somewhat lost - a final coda on screen sees Malcolm embracing his goofy dancing and taking on the mantle of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Carlton with gusto; it's an uneven touch that decries the Boyz to men story that's just transpired and reduces some of the power of what we've witnessed.