Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons
Spoilers Within: No
Originally posted 2nd March 2016 on Letterboxd.
Rick Famuyiwa’s fourth feature gives the answer to the question that no one would have been asking until this very paragraph: what would those “Piracy, It’s a Crime!” PSAs from early 2000s DVDs look like if they were feature length? Unfortunately for Dope, this is exactly how it felt to me: a sporadic, awkward hodgepodge of at least four different narrative and editing styles disguised as a profound challenge on racism, masculinity, and adulthood.
The overburdening theme here is that of identity, yet, for a film that pushes this to the forefront at every slight opportunity, it lacks it’s own. Part of this might be down to my total inability to connect or care about Malcolm (Shameik Moore*) or his friends situations, and that’s mainly because I found every one of them to be so goddamn annoying and arrogant. I rooted for the ‘bad guys’. I didn’t want Malcolm nor his pals to succeed. And by the time the ending came around (complete that irritating voice-over) I had lost all compassion or involvement.
*I was genuinely surprised to find out that Moore is actually closer to the age that he plays in the film (real age 20 to Malcolm’s 16? 17?). I actually should’ve looked before the end because a whole lot of my distracted time was spent thinking he was a real-life 25+ trying to pass off as a decade younger. What I’m trying to say is: at whatever age, I didn’t buy him as a leading man.
Perhaps I misinterpreted it. In spite of its obvious simplicity and determination to ‘do good’, I was never once hooked, and all the successful chuckles came with a caveat. Specifically, those narratively progressive scenes with Malcolm and AJ (Roger Guenveur Smith) were so stiff that they edged into faux-complexity that wasn’t at all endearing, and for a film about the ‘underdogs’, the core characters had an unappealingly mean streak throughout it that it wouldn’t shake.
I don’t know, maybe it was due to the level of apathy I was already responding to, especially when decent scenes were then cut with something entirely garbage (ie. Blake Anderson’s atrocious drug-hacker bit-coin subplot) but regrettably – whether simple or complex – I’ll probably not be returning again to find out.