As the Academy Awards have shown us, there are a lot of important elements that go into a great movie: costumes, acting, production, story, etc. In the case of Dope, the most standout category is certainly the soundtrack, featuring killer mixes from the best in the ’90s hip-hop game to current hip-hop and R&B rockstars. Busta Rhymes, Santigold, A Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy are just a few of the radio masters that come to mind, but trust me — if you see this movie for nothing else, see it (or I guess hear it) for the soundtrack.
Beyond the soundtrack, Dope delivers on being a fun movie with some important messages about what it’s like growing up as an outsider, and defying the expectations of your neighborhood and culture. The film starts off by introducing us to Malcolm, a straight-A student in Inglewood, California working towards the end of his junior year to get into his top college selection. Malcolm, joined by his best friends Jib and Diggy, struggle to get by as the “nerds” of the school, often falling victim to bullying, petty robbery, and of course, verbal abuse.
One day, Malcolm and his friends are trying to avoid getting their bikes stolen when they run into a relatively well-known dope dealer in the neighborhood. The trio manages to strike up a friendship with the dealer, granting them an invite to his upcoming birthday party at a neighborhood club. The three friends go to the party, only to have the cops bust it in no time at all. As they flee, Malcolm picks up his backpack, only to realize too late that his new drug-dealing friend has packed his Jansport with thousands of dollars’ worth of dope.
From here, the movie develops a pace like The Italian Job with the seriousness of Napoleon Dynamite — if Dynamite had any degree of swagger. Malcolm and his friends must figure out how to get rid of the drugs without getting shot, and maybe more importantly, without getting caught and having it put on their permanent records, thereby ruining their chances of getting into good colleges (and breaking out of their neighborhood, known as “the Bottoms”). The trio, with Malcolm at the helm, manage to gain an impressive foothold in the drug business, setting up a black market website and selling their supply for bitcoins. In the end, Malcolm must decide whether the life he wants to pursue is that of person A: the successful student with dreams of higher education, breaking out of stereotypical norms, or person B: successful dealer finding his way in a neighborhood where status has also been more important than GPA.
While most of Dope is entertaining and doesn’t try too hard to make its audience feel their position of privilege, the ending does invoke a sort of affirmative-action-esque message that may make viewers think twice about how serious the intentions of this film really were after all. Unfortunately, the way in which this testament is presented is only pseudo-empowering, and in my (educated, women’s studies minor, understand what privilege is, understand standpoint theory) perspective, falls short of truly being inspiring. However, dismissing this final scene, and the at-best peculiar romantic subplot which had about as much substance as the nerds taking the strippers to prom in 21 Jump Street, Dope is through and through pretty — well, say it with me: dope.
From a kick-ass soundtrack to a fun, campy crime-comedy-drama, Dope is a good time and well worth the watch. Also a perk, it’s currently available on Netflix and the whole soundtrack is available on Spotify — and if that doesn’t sell you, nothing will.