[Screen It]


(2015) (Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori) (R)

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Comedy/Action: A trio of high school geeks must contend with finding themselves in the possession of a backpack filled with drugs.
Malcolm (SHAMEIK MOORE), Jib (TONY REVOLORI) and Diggy (KIERSEY CLEMONS) are self-proclaimed high school geeks who love old '90s culture, have their own punk band, and don't really fit in with the rest of the kids at their inner-city Los Angeles high school. While trying to stay clear of a bunch of high school bullies after school, Malcolm ends up running into local drug dealer Dom (A$AP ROCKY). After some discussion about '90s hip hop, Dom wants Malcolm to deliver a verbal party invite to Nakia (ZOE KRAVITZ), a local girl studying for her GED in order to attend college and get out of their neighborhood. She agrees to attend the party, but only if Malcolm goes as well.

He, Jib and Diggy do just that, but a subsequent shoot-out and arrival of the police results in Malcolm unknowingly ending up in the possession of a backpack filled with ecstasy and a handgun. Malcolm wants to get rid of that in order to stay alive, and is relieved to get an anonymous phone call from someone he's supposed to give it to.

But when Dom calls from jail and says that person is either a cop or a dangerous thug, Malcolm, Jib and Diggy go on the run. Their instructions are to deliver the goods to someone named A.J., but when they get to his expensive house, they encounter his young adults kids -- Jaleel (QUINCY BROWN), who wants to be a record producer, and the sultry Lily (CHANEL IMAN), who seemingly wants to seduce Malcolm and help him lose his virginity.

During all of that, Malcolm manages to race to a college-related interview with local businessman Austin Jacoby (ROGER GUENVEUR SMITH) who not-so subtly gives the teen instructions on what to do with what's in his possession. Realizing they need help to do that, the three students turn to fellow former band camp attendee Will (BLAKE ANDERSON), who just so happens to be a drug dealer. With Malcolm also helping Nakia study for her GED exam, and the three geeks needing to take their own SAT tests, there's never a dull moment in their suddenly and unexpectedly tumultuous lives.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
When it comes to getting an education, most people obviously think about -- and put the most faith in -- school, be that during the formative years covered in kindergarten through 12th grade, or more advanced studies in college and beyond. Of course, some kids learn stuff from their friends, on the "streets" or by working a job. Heck, you can learn something that could change your life even by something as simple as a fortune following your Chinese food meal.

For Joel Goodson, his education about capitalism, materialism and how a certain part of the world works came from running a brothel for a night in his house while his parents were away. If that name doesn't ring a bell, he was the character played by Tom Cruise in "Risky Business," one of the better and more stylistically shot high school age satires to ever grace the silver screen.

That film came out in 1983, and was already a "golden oldie" of sorts by the time the three main high school characters in "Dope" came into this world. But with Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) fixated on cultural elements (from the late eighties and early nineties) that were popular and faded away long before their existence, it's likely that they're familiar with the flick, something which could apparently also be said about writer/director Rick Famuyiwa or others involved in the production.

And that's because while Joel may have grown up via the world of prostitution, our characters here do a bit of the same via another illegal profession -- selling drugs. You see, they unwittingly come into possession of a backpack filled with "molly" (ecstasy) when they attend a drug dealer's birthday party where Dom the dealer (A$ap Rocky) wants our man Malcolm to convince a young woman (ZoŽ Kravitz) to attend the shindig.

For those thinking such a dealer might not use such a word to describe the event, you'd be wrong, and that's part of the charm, especially early on, in Famuyiwa's script and particularly the dialogue that flows through it.

As occurs far more often in the movies than in such real life situations, some of the characters stop whatever they're doing and engage in fairly intellectual exchanges about any number of topics, be that past hip hop artists or the definition of the term "slippery slope." That's something that takes some of the otherwise nasty edge off such characters, while making our plucky trio of brainy geeks and high school outsiders, often subjected to bullying, all the more endearing to us.

The film works best in its first 30 or so minutes as we're introduced to the various characters (some brief voice-over narration help courtesy of producer Forest Whitaker dries up rather quickly) and watch them interact. While profane, they come off as fresh and funny creations rather than recycled roles or -- considering the film takes place in inner-city Los Angeles -- stereotypes.

When the main plot thrust kicks in, that sort of fun unfortunately takes a back seat to the requirements of the storyline along with an odd interlude featuring the three coming into contact with a rich kid wannabe record producer (Quincy Brown) and his sultry sister (Chanel Iman) who has her eyes and mind set on deflowering our main geeky virgin. A later and longer interaction with a drug dealer/computer hacker (Blake Anderson) also isn't at the top of the film's game, especially as the plot grows increasingly preposterous, from the catalyst behind the eventual drug dealing to how it actually goes down.

Occasionally, however, those earlier charming and funny aspects briefly return to the forefront and help everything go down easier, while Famuyiwa often gets fairly creative in terms of shaping and showcasing the film's visual style. The hip hop inspired soundtrack -- featuring classic tunes and new numbers by Pharrell should please fans of that music genre.

While it doesn't hold together throughout as well as its -- gulp -- 32-year-old and far better predecessor, "Dope" proves that getting an education through selling drugs can indeed be a risky, sometimes funny and entertaining business. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 16, 2015 / Posted June 19, 2015

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