Most of the time when we see geeks and geek culture represented on film or television, we get a narrow-minded stereotype, a caricature that the general population can immediately identify as a geek – regardless of how accurate this depiction might be. So it’s unbelievably refreshing when a film like Dope comes along to remind us that geeks come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior from a particularly treacherous part of Inglewood known as The Bottoms, where his daily routine consists of circumnavigating drug dealers, trying to avoid bullying jocks and running from gangbangers who want to steal his new shoes. He’s a straight-A student with stratospheric test scores, who dreams of getting into Harvard and leaving his neighborhood in the rearview mirror.
Malcolm is also a self-described geek: he plays in a punk band with his two best friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), his favorite TV series is Game of Thrones, and he’s fixated on ’90s hip-hop culture and fashion – right down to his high-top fade and a wardrobe that looks like it was stolen from the set of an early Spike Lee film.
When local drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky) enlists Malcolm in his attempt to woo neighborhood beauty Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), Malcolm and his crew find themselves invited to a party at a local club. But while Malcolm is working up the courage to ask Nakia to dance, a backroom drug deal takes a turn for the worse, which sends Malcolm fleeing for his life – and unwittingly in possession of a handgun and a huge quantity of MDMA, which Dom stuffed into his backpack just before the police arrived.
With Dom behind bars and a pair of gun-toting thugs hot on their heels, Malcolm and his friends find themselves pulled into the very world they’ve always tried to avoid. An unlikely (and side-splittingly funny) series of events forces them into a situation where their only way out is to sell the drugs themselves – but rather than taking to the streets, Malcolm hits on a genius idea to leverage his knowledge of geek culture to get rid of the product while keeping himself and his friends out of the line of fire.
To say anything more would be a travesty, as one of Dope‘s biggest strengths is its near-constant series of surprises, most of which are accompanied by howls of laughter. Director Rick Famuyiwa, working from his own original script, has managed to skillfully infuse the energy and playfulness of a John Hughes coming-of-age comedy into the most unlikely of settings, and the results are just shy of brilliant.
That being said, Dope suffers a bit thanks to an inflated runtime, which can be attributed to the film having a few too many plot threads to keep track of. There’s a sort-of romantic subplot that isn’t terribly necessary, whose removal could have allowed the film to wrap up about ten minutes earlier – and in my opinion, on a much more emphatic note.
But honestly, I’m nitpicking here, and the ability to enjoy the film doesn’t hinge on these elements. Moore’s magnetic performance and Famuyiwa’s uproarious script are a perfect combination, and Dope has emerged as one of the funniest, most original and most gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.
A hilarious coming-of-age comedy set in the most unlikely of environments, with a near-constant stream of twists and surprises. Smart, original, and incredibly gratifying.