Movie Review: Dope

This week nothing came out that many people would find relevant. I am still reviewing the movies that did, of course, but at the same time I have a ton of schoolwork I must complete and another important development I will share when the time comes. Next week will be better with Ted 2 and Max… hopefully.

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In a world where trailers are an art form and borderline hard to miss on a variety digital platforms, it is difficult to go into a movie without a single hint or notion of what it might be. As a critic I find it important to avoid trailers as a means of having no expectations for a subject before viewing. It allows the film to speak for itself without the help of its promotional material. Such was the situation going into Dope. Did my decision for vacancy prove useful or should I have known what I was getting into?

Watching the trailer would not have changed what I feel about Dope. Trailers give a general breakdown on what movies are about and still I find myself confused by what I just watched. Perhaps it is because I cannot relate to teenagers growing up in Inglewood, California or maybe Dope has a crisis of identity.

Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore, is a 90s hip-hop buff who wants to go to Harvard. After accepting an invitation to a birthday party in the hopes of a potential hook up, he and his hipster friends find themselves caught in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong. When it seemed like just another day in a dangerous neighborhood, Malcolm becomes the reluctant owner of said narcotics and must sell them off at the behest of an intimidating crime boss.

Dope’s identity crisis is that of its tone and purpose. Taken at face value, it appears to be a comedy similar to Superbad with an early 90s LA aesthetic. There are plenty moments of humor and situations of hipsters being hipsters in the hood until they are over shadowed by gang warfare, teenagers pushing drugs, tension-packed stand-offs, elaborate scheming that would make Walter White blush, and a quick digression into inspiring underprivileged youths while contradicting its own message. It was confusing and especially shocking at the very end.

The central conceit of Dope is Malcolm choses to do well in school, have high aspirations, and works to better his life and mind. As a result he is seen as a geek and endures routine harassment from students of a lesser sort. He is inherently good and does not let anything get him down, but as film progresses he assimilates himself into a life of crime that could have been avoided had he been his regular honest self. And at the end, where Malcolm narrates his Harvard application essay, he calls attention the epidemically common misconception that young black men are criminals, when in reality they are like everyone else, of course. The problem in regards to the film is Malcolm is still a criminal doing criminal shit!

You can be the nicest, smartest person in the world who people love and admire, but if you are a mass murderer, it does not matter how nice and smart you are. Hitler was a vegetarian who loved animals and enforced conservation laws that preserved Germany’s wildlife when he was in power, but he was still Hitler! This same gross miscalculation in Dope perpetuates the stereotype that if you are black, young, and male, you are a criminal who will always fall into a life of violence and condemnable activities.

Maybe I am as far from the target demographic as possible to fully understand what the film was trying say and gravely misinterpreted its message. An average white guy does not usually see movies about black hipsters. But upon revelation of the conclusion, after what started as a promising comedy, I cannot in good conscience recommend Dope to prospective viewers. Though not at all bad and mostly funny in some places, the ending replaced my hope with a sense of dread and discomfort. I recommend Friday, Top Five, or The Boondocks as worthy substitutes if you must see something his weekend that is not Jurassic World.

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