Malcolm (Shameik Moore, "Joyful Noise") is a geek keeping his head down in his gritty L.A. neighborhood but when a surprising invitation to a drug dealer's birthday party leads him down paths where he just might be "Dope."
Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa's ("The Wood") high energy comedy does a neat flip, taking an upstanding student of a single mom (Kimberly Elise, "For Colored Girls") from a tough Black neighborhood who wants to get into Harvard but doesn't want to write about his 'cliched' life, then puts him through the paces of bad boy cliches while maintaining his integrity. Moore, in his "House Party" high top fade, grounds the film as the nice, unassuming young man whose ingenuity paired with a useful buddy from band camp squeezes him through some hilarious scrapes.
Malcolm and his buddies, lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons, TV's 'Transparent,' 'Extant') and 14% African American Jib (Tony Revolori, "The Grand Budapest Hotel") are thought to be into 'white' sh#t like Donald Glover, manga and getting good grades. They love 90's hip hop and have a punk band Awreeoh. Life for this trio can be treacherous - when Malcolm's not getting his sneakers stolen in school, the three face the daily choice on their bike ride home between passing through gangs or dealers. One day, shod in only one shoe, Malcolm rejects losing the other amidst Crips and Bloods by going past Dom's crew. Dom (rapper A$ap Rocky) makes him a go-between, sending him to Malcolm's own crush Nakia (Zoë Kravitz, "Mad Max: Fury Road") with an invite. That night proves to be the beginning of a slippery slope. When the guns come out, Malcolm steers Nakia to safety but the next day, his backpack sets off the high school security dog. Good thing his rep precedes him - he's waved through, but discovers $100K worth of Molly stashed in his bag.
After using their wiles to escape the red El Camino they initially believe's been sent by Dom, Malcolm gets a phone call from the incarcerated dealer instructing him to take the stash to 'AJ.' What follows is a twisty journey involving two viral Youtube videos, the near loss of his virginity, the establishment of a drug distribution setup in the high school's chemistry lab, a journey through the Deep Web and a most surprising encounter with his college entrance advisor.
Famuyiwa's energetic direction makes the whole seem like some kind of loopy dream fueled by tracks from Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, and the film's own Awreeoh, all overseen by executive producer Pharrell Williams. The cast is great beginning with Moore's breakthrough performance. Clemons is a low key militant, Revolori a master of the goofball spit take. Model Chanel Iman fearlessly makes herself ridiculous, first as a zonked out seductress, later the star of a humiliating news story. As her older brother Jaleel, Quincy Brown epitomizes clueless entitlement. Kravitz is a stunning yet level-headed object of desire, A$ap Rocky a likable instigator. The most insane performance comes from Blake Anderson of TV's 'Workaholics,' whose myriad skills enable Malcolm's risky business. Roger Guenveur Smith ("American Gangster") is the smooth talking bad guy. Producer Forest Whitaker narrates.
Robin did not see this film.
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