College or Chaos? ‘Dope’ Explores the Thin (Funny) Line Between the Two

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Shameik Moore (left) plays a nerd who finds that the streets aren’t so far away from his normal world. (Courtesy Photo)

17 year-old Malcolm (Shameik Moore) was raised by a single-mom (Kimberly Elise) in a rough section of L.A. where he’s turned out to be more of a milquetoast than a menace to society. He’s actually so nerdy he’s formed a funk band called Oreo with a couple of fellow geeks, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori). The tight-knit BFFs carefully negotiate their way through the perilous gauntlet lining their path to school, doing their best to hide the fact that they do “white sh*t” like getting good grades in hopes of going to a good college and making it out of the ghetto.

Malcolm has his heart set on Harvard, which just might happen, given his high SAT scores. In terms of his application, he still has to finish his personal essay and then do a decent job in his upcoming interview with esteemed alumnus Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), the check-cashing magnate.

However, what might prove more of a challenge is simply keeping his nose clean the rest of senior year. After all, he encounters danger on a daily basis, whether it’s bullies trying steal his sneakers or neighborhood gangstas pressuring him to join the Bloods.

Malcolm’s unraveling starts when, against his better judgment, he accepts an invite from a girl (Zoe Kravitz) he has a crush on to a drug dealer’s (Rakim Mayers) birthday party at an underground nightclub. His first mistake is even entering the seedy, subterranean rave. His second is asking Nakia to dance, because she’s also the object of the macho birthday boy’s affection.

Then, when a gunfight suddenly breaks out, Malcolm grabs his backpack and runs for his life, unaware that his rival in romance has hidden a stash of contraband there. So, the next thing you know, Malcolm’s on the run from a number of unsavory characters who covet the carefully-packed powdery substance.

Thus unfolds Dope, a cleverly-scripted, coming-of-age comedy reminiscent of the equally-sophisticated Dear White People. Narrated by Forest Whitaker, this laff-aminute, fish-out-of-water adventure mines most of its humor at the expense of an emboldened 98-pound weakling who’s used to having sand kicked in his face.

The picture was directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) who keeps you entertained by turning more than a few conventions on their heads. The film also features a very pleasant soundtrack which includes a couple of crowd-pleasing tunes by 11-time, Grammy-winner Pharrell Williams.

A rollicking roller coaster ride around the ‘hood that’s basically a hilarious cross between Kid and Play’s House Party (1990) and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).

Excellent ***** Rated R for profanity, nudity, sexuality, ethnic slurs, drug use and violence, all involving teens