This movie got a ton of good buzz so I went to see it knowing really nothing about it. The plot is certainly loose-limbed and the film meanders, but let’s just say an inner city nerd ends up with a ****ton of illegal drugs via some “hilarious” hijinks, by which I mean shockingly graphic murders. Anyway, the film just really didn’t work for me at all. The three main actors are all good, I suppose. Shameik Moore has a sunny optimism in the lead; Kiersey Clemons is charming enough in her role; best of all is Tony Revolori, about a billion miles from the Grand Budapest Hotel, as the third wheel. They’re the friends who find themselves swept up in this whole “adventure,” but no one but Malcolm, Moore’s character, gets any real development. The film seems to think it’s being very pointed and barbed in its social critique, but it isn’t. There’s a cringe-inducing running gag about who can use the n-word and who can’t and a plot thread revolving around Moore’s desire to get out of the inner city and into Harvard. And the film’s humor really doesn’t land that often. But it’s in the dramatic moments that the film falters even farther. Zoe Kravitz has a weird supporting part as a single mother trying to get her GED; literally no scene with her in it makes a lick of sense and her character is so inconsistent that “inconsistent” implies too much consistency. And Moore has a few dramatic moments near the end that he just isn’t up to pulling off. Anyway I just couldn’t help but think about Dear White People, a genuine masterpiece that almost no one saw last year; it was everything this movie isn’t: a hilarious comedy, a genuinely moving character study and a smart exploration of racial politics in modern America. But where Dear White People was interested in exploring issues and raising questions, Dope is only interested in telling its audience what to think. It’s definitely a movie with some intriguing stylistic choices; Famuyiwa is doing more visually than most people would do with this movie. But ultimately, Dope just fizzles out and the plot just grinds on forever. There are some fairly good comic set pieces. Chanel Iman is deliriously unhinged as a sex-crazed rich girl and Roger Guenveur Smith takes a pretty thinly written role and makes it his own via one of the weirder performances I’ve seen this year. But I don’t really know why this connected with critics or audiences; it’s a slapdash, scattershot misfire in my opinion. The director has some ideas, but . . . well, better luck next time, Rick. Average. 2 stars.
tl;dr – superficially stylish, but very poorly written, Dope is a film that is high on how smart and savvy it is, but it’s really surprisingly out of it and ultimately, it falls flat on its face. 2 stars.