Like its geeky-cool teen protagonists, "Dope" is ready to take on the real world. After making a splash at Sundance in January, Rick Famuyiwa's comedy-drama starring Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori as a trio of Inglewood hipsters on the move arrives in theaters this weekend — but does it live up to the buzz?
As is often the case, it depends on whom you ask, but most critics agree that "Dope" is an exuberant, if erratic romp.
One of the more critical reviews comes courtesy of Robert Abele, writing for the Los Angeles Times: He says, "'Dope' has its own trafficking problem: tired stereotypes, shallow humor and lip service to the complexities of racial identity and expectation. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa's movie, though inspired by his own Inglewood childhood, is such a pandering mess, it raises the question: Whom is this for?"
Abele continues, "'Dope' is too high on its own supply of easy, questionable comic targets to give a sense of how personal it's supposed to be for Famuyiwa. No matter how many nostalgic tracks or insider cultural references he perfumes the air with, or larkish Tarantino-esque conversations about thorny issues he has his characters get into (some of which are amusing), 'Dope' is, in the end, just another unfunny grab bag of stereotypes. Don't believe the hype."
Other reviews are more favorable, though often measured.
The New York Times' A.O. Scott says, "'Dope' has a lot going on, and also a lot going for it. Mr. Famuyiwa has a way of cutting and pasting influences that demonstrates a fan's sincere enthusiasm. He swerves from bouncy jokiness to violence — and from long, talky takes to quick, syncopated edits — with the dexterity of someone who has studied the early work of Quentin Tarantino. He shoves disparate genre elements together as if pulling jigsaw puzzle pieces from a half-dozen different boxes, and if the finished work isn't quite convincing, it's still fun to look at."
But while Famuyiwa "may be interested in mocking and subverting stereotypes," Scott adds, he's "unwilling to go beyond them entirely, to populate his sunny Southern California mean streets with fully rounded human beings. He also leans too heavily on the audience's presumed prejudices, or maybe on prejudices that some members of the audience will be eager to attribute to somebody else."
The Village Voice's Alan Scherstuhl says, "Part of what makes ['Dope'] so fresh and joyous is that in many key ways it's not new at all. Here's a dramatic teen comedy, flavor-crystaled with sex and drugs and innocent raunch, about good friends who get caught up in bad business on their way to a climax that involves the dramatic recitation of a college application essay. The soundtrack's a choice nostalgic mixtape, and the likable leads feel like stars on the rise … Like 'Dazed & Confused' or 'The Breakfast Club,' this is a film about just how weird the extraordinarily normal kids are — kids like you."
The Associated Press' Lindsey Bahr calls "Dope" a "fresh and slightly rebellious take on the series of escalating events story" that "hooks you fast and strong." But, she says, "It's hard to get a grasp on the tone, which transitions rather violently across the nearly two-hour runtime. One moment, everything is self-referential and glib and sunny; the next, people are actually getting mowed down with gunfire. It's one of 'Dope's' quirks that works only in the strong first half."
Though the movie is "intoxicatingly cinematic" and has "enjoyable performances," Bahr says, it "goes on far too long and the energy and vibrancy of the first half dwindles as it transitions into a drug dealing caper. Don't expect big ideas or even satirical commentary here either. 'Dope' is just a fantastical, slight, and occasionally fun, hip hop-scored romp."
The AV Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky agrees that "Dope" is "convoluted and sometimes confused," and the humor is "broad and often cartoonish, but that doesn't preclude it from being occasionally incisive."
Vishnevetsky continues: "'Dope' has more characters and subplots than it knows what to do with, and its performances are all over the place, ranging from Clemons' and Revolori's charismatic turns as second-banana goofballs to Roger Guenveur Smith's stylized impression of a local millionaire, so vampiric that he might as well be slathered in German Expressionist makeup. Even Moore swings from likable understatement to Jerry Lewis-level fidgetiness depending on the scene. Still, in an era full of indifferent, cookie-cutter indies, an excess of ideas and personality is hardly a bad thing."
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