“Dope” is bursting with such dynamic energy and intense feeling, that it seems like writer-director Rick Famuyiwa crammed three movies into one 103-minute enterprise.
His portrait of a smart teen named Malcolm (Shameik Moore), who gets swept up in a barrage of illegal activity over the course of a few days in his Inglewood, California, hometown, is filled with bright colors and abundant pop culture references, scored to ’90s hip-hop and packed with stylistic flourishes including fourth-wall shattering, kinetic montage and hyperactive drug-fueled action.
So much happens here, including scenes centered on slapstick humor, a streak of surrealism and a subplot involving bitcoins, that it’s tempting to shut down and submit as one might to a brainless piece of entertainment.
Famuyiwa aspires to more though, seeking to reconfigure standard African-American stereotypes and to illustrate the identity conflicts that shape men and women like Malcolm all over the country.
It’s spectacularly ambitious and only intermittently successful. The idea of making a Tarantino-like movie with a social conscience is a great one on paper but uneven in its realization.
The seriousness underlying “Dope” clashes with the flashier qualities to such an extent that the picture plays discombobulated, lurching from innocuous silliness to serious insights, its two sides at war in much the same fashion as the protagonist’s inner self.