Plot: What’s it about?
Malcom Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) is a High School Senior who’s obsessed with the 90’s. That’s putting it mildly as he doesn’t just appreciate the music of that decade, but also dresses as if it’s still the 90’s. The film opens with a narration by Forest Whitaker, and he introduces us to Malcom and his two friends. The narration doesn’t run the entire film, but it comes back in spurts. His friends Jib and Diggy share similar interests and we learn that Malcom’s ultimate goal is to attend Harvard. The film begins as something of a coming of age story. We see Malcom getting bullied at school, harassed on the street as he rides his bike home as well as other issues. It then brings in various other issues as Malcom gets in way over his head, and ultimately finds himself with a backpack full of drugs after he’s let into a club with his friends. These events take up most of the film’s first half before it gets into Malcom trying to sell off the drugs and avoid getting arrested for it. His friends agree to help him distribute. I haven’t even touched on the romantic subplot with Malcom helping a girl study for her GED in exchange for going to the prom with him. Dope is many things, but you can’t say it’s boring.
While it wears its influences on its sleeve, Dope still gets a lot of credit for being its own thing. The problem is that it’s almost too many things in one small package. I missed the film in theaters, and despite the mostly strong reviews, I did see some criticism of it not knowing what film it wanted to be. That’s a hard thing to argue with as we’re thrown one too many subplots, but somehow, it held my interest. There were times the film did threaten to lose me, but I was always curious what would happen next. I’m unsure of Shameik Moore as a leading man. It’s not that he gives a bad performance, but too often he has a blank stare on his face and just looks confused. There are also some narrative stumbles as it really could’ve used a tighter focus. Several scenes also freeze to give us background information or to cut to a brief flashback leading up to that particular point. That became a problem after a while. I also don’t think the narration was entirely necessary. We can gather a lot of things on our own and don’t need to be spoon-fed. There are other issues I had with the characters making questionable choices. In one scene Malcom is trying to hide his backpack before it’s discovered by the police and their dog. He runs through the school halls like a buffoon, drawing far more attention to himself than necessary. Lastly, the film is such a love letter to the 90’s that you wonder why they didn’t just set it in that era. All these things might sound harsh, but I still found more than enough to enjoy from Dope to offer a mild recommendation. I just wish the film had a tighter focus.
Video: How’s it look?
Despite what you might see on the cover or stills from the movie, not this does not take place in the 90’s. The high/low hair style, acid washed demin jacket and the like are all happily in present day. Universal’s 2.40:1 AVC HD image isn’t, however, a thing of the past as it looks pretty darn good. Colors are a bit muted for some of the scenes, contrast and black levels work well off one another and you’d better have detail if you’re going to see the patterns on some of the outfits worn by Malcolm. Consistent with most all day and date Blu-ray releases, Dope looks, well…are you going to make me say it?
Audio: How’s it sound?
The included DTS HD Master Audio sound mix is actually pretty good as well. Not that I was expecting anything less, but some films are a bit hit and miss with things like this. Vocals are clear and crisp, surrounds kick in at just the right time and the front stage has a nice active mix to it that makes for a very dynamic sound stage. Obviously with Malcom being in a hip-hop band, there’s plenty of room for the mix to flex its muscle and there’s not a whole lot else to say other than it’s a nice, good-sounding mix that’s sure to please.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Dope is Different – A rather brief feature with some selected scenes from the movie and as actor Shameik Moore gives us the low down on his character and the movie as a whole.
Dope Music – Pharrell Williams, A$AP Rocky, Rick Fumuyiwa and others delve into the essential role old-school rap and punk rock tracks play in the film.
The Bottom Line
While not quite “Dope”, there’s still plenty to like about this film. There are some curious choices made here, but the film maintained my interest overall. There are far better films about the harsh life, but it gets a lot right. I’d recommend a rental before purchasing, however.