By Gary Murray

Starring Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori

Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Running time 103 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating Matinee

Dope was a critical and audience hit at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was an official selection of the Cannes International Film Festival. It was a critical darling that has generated major buzz in the art house world. It finally makes its debut on these shores in a theatrical release.

The story is of Malcolm (Shameik Moore).  He’s a good kid in one of the worst neighborhoods of LA—“The Bottoms”.  It is a gang infested area that has streets full of drug dealers.  It takes a sure foot to navigate these streets and Malcolm has learned to survive.

Malcolm has two best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori).  All three are into 1990s hip-hop culture and the three plays in a hard-core band.  The three are considered geeks in their school but they enjoy life and each others company.

Things become complicated for Malcolm when he is invited to a drug-dealer Dom’s (ASAP Rocky) birthday party.  Malcolm wants to go in order to get closer to Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), a local hot girl.  A mix-up happens at the club and a giant bag of drugs is slipped into Malcolm’s school bag.

The next morning, the three kids find the drugs and Malcolm gets a phone call on where to deliver the merchandise.  As he goes to make the drop off, Malcolm gets a phone call from Dom.  Dom warns him that the whole thing is a set-up.  Now, Malcolm has the drugs and someone trying to get him.

In the first of many strange turns, Malcolm and the gang have been told that he needs to sell the drugs.  This turns into a bit-coin scandal and dealing drugs to the white kids outside the hood.  Will (Blake Anderson) is a stoner and their connection to a wider world of distributions.  This along with taking the SAT and having an interview with a Harvard recruiter make up the bulk of Dope.

The chemistry between the three kids is infective and one believes that they are nerdy best buddies.  It was enjoyable to watch them just hang out and be friends.  The scene in which Diggy slaps Will for using the ‘N’ word is a laugh filled bit of silliness. 

There are so many great performances throughout the screenplay.  The drug dealer is not a bad guy but a real individual.  As a matter of fact, no one in the screenplay by Rick Famuyiwa is a caricature but even the smallest role is a fully functioning character.

The problem with the screenplay is that there is just too much going on.  There is this meandering feeling throughout the work as if Rick just didn’t want to trim any bit from his work.  There are many moments that just feel out of place and many other moments that needed to be cut down or cut out.  It would have been more to have given us less.    

Dope has a very independent vibe which is both a good and a bad thing.  There is so much going on that the screenplay almost collapses.  Writer director Rick Famuyiwa seems to be so much in love with his characters that he doesn’t want to cut the fat from the screenplay.  It was funny and had a bit of charm but it is not a monster Cannes film experience.