Dope Shameik Moore, Tony Revlori, Kiersey Clemons. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Early in Dope, high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) tells his guidance counselor that he doesn’t want to write a college admissions essay about growing up in a poor neighborhood, being raised by a single mother and never knowing his father, because that’s a cliché. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa spends the rest of Dope working against those clichés, creating a movie about inner-city teenagers that acknowledges the difficult realities of their lives without depicting them as relentlessly bleak.
Malcolm and his fellow geeks Jib (Tony Revolori) and Dig (Kiersey Clemons) are optimistic but pragmatic kids who don’t fit in among the gang members and drug dealers in their Inglewood, California, neighborhood: They’re obsessed with ’90s hip-hop culture, they listen to indie rock, and they actually care about their grades.
At the same time, they can’t truly escape the violence and illegal activity around them, and when Malcolm inadvertently ends up with a backpack full of drugs meant for someone else, he and his friends have to use their intelligence and resourcefulness to appease the dangerous people out to get them. The result is a movie that mixes winning comedic moments with serious, life-or-death situations, often at the same time. The three friends’ madcap dash to get rid of the drugs is like a cross between Adventures in Babysitting and Boyz N the Hood.
The movie loses a bit of momentum in its second half, although it ties things together effectively in the end. It’s an entertaining coming-of-age story that makes smart use of its setting but doesn’t let that setting be the only thing that defines it.