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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

It's hard to walk in the right direction when someone's always stealing your shoes.

That's the problem for Malcolm, a high school kid growing up in one of Los Angeles' toughest neighborhoods. He and his friends—Jib and Diggy—are frequent targets of thieves who simply can't get enough of Malcolm's fine athletic footwear. They'll yank the suckers right off Malcolm's feet more often than not. And if he's reluctant to hand over his high tops, Malcolm can count on a sound beating, too. Yeah, this neighborhood can be murder on both the soul and the soles.

But kicks-loving punks, neighborhood drug dealers and indifferent teachers haven't yet squelched Malcolm's style. Fit in? He and his friends take a different tack. They geek out over '90s hip-hop. They formed a punk band. They even (gasp) study—so much so that Malcolm has ambitions of going to Harvard. That's not an easy dream for an inner-city kid raised by a single mother. And it'll take more than good grades to get him there.

After spending an afternoon dodging petty thieves, Malcolm runs into Dom, a local drug dealer. Dom asks Malcolm to ask Nakia, a pretty neighborhood girl, to come to Dom's birthday. (The 'hood, apparently, sometimes resembles a junior high passing period.) She agrees—but only (she says with a slight smile) if Malcolm goes too.

And so he does. Never mind that he and his friends are underage and technically can't even walk into the nightclub where the party's being held. Or that the tables and bars will likely be stacked with illegal substances. Or that half the revelers might well be packing heat underneath their best party clothes.

So should anyone really be surprised when the shindig is crashed by a bunch of masked, gun-firing thugs? Perhaps not. For most of the attendees (at least the ones not actually shot), such impromptu assaults may simply feel like a "last call" notice. And while it's a little out of the norm for Malcolm, Jib and Diggy, they still manage to grab their things and escape, unscathed and unarrested.

But a weird thing happens when Malcolm walks into school the next morning: The metal detector freaks out, and the drug-sniffing dog on duty starts barking. The school's security guard, who knows Malcolm's penchant for good grades and geekiness, figures that both dog and detector have simply shorted out, and he waves Malcolm through. But when Malcolm actually opens his bag, he finds more than his books and baloney sandwich: He finds several kilos of Ecstasy. And a handgun. Oh, and a phone … that starts to ring.

Malcolm wants to walk in the right direction, all right—all the way to Harvard if he can. But it looks like his life is going to take a little detour.

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Positive Elements

"You shouldn't settle for what's expected," Malcolm tells Nakia. Those are words he lives by, and it makes the high schooler pretty likable and pretty admirable in some ways.

Born and raised in a bleak situation, the young man has higher aspirations than peddling weed on a grimy street corner. He wants to break free of his neighborhood's crime-minded clutches through smarts and hard work. He and his friends are willing to embrace their own nerdy passions, even when it means ridicule and physical abuse. In an environment where there's overwhelming pressure to fit in, Malcolm makes the choice to stand out. And while he makes some seriously unfortunate decisions during the course of Dope, too, he continues to keep his eyes focused on who he is, who he wants to be and how he might manage to transcend his circumstances.

Spiritual Content

Diggy says she's a lesbian, and we're told that, every week, her mother and her church friends gather around her in a circle and try to "pray away the gay." When asked if it's working …

Sexual Content

… Diggy says she may have been slightly sexually aroused while watching a Justin Bieber video. (But everyone then agrees that may have been just a product of Bieber's feminine-leaning vibe.)

At a party Diggy is given a lap dance by a mostly naked woman, and she dances with another woman. And she flashes her breasts at a security guard to prove she's a woman. Twice Malcolm is shown nude in his room masturbating to images on his phone. (We see everything except explicit nudity.) We see women wearing skimpy thongs on his phone and elsewhere.

Under the auspices of playing "Mother May I?" a woman strips off everything but her panties before starting to move toward sex with Malcolm. (We see her bare breasts and part of his backside.) She later runs around outside half undressed.

Diggy and Jib make lewd gestures behind Nakia's back as she talks to Malcolm and leads him into her house. We hear a great deal of talk about various body parts and sexual functions, invariably punctuated by crass and sometimes obscene terminology. One guy says that he's experienced a lot of oral and anal sex, practices he and his partners have decided keep them all virgins. (Or makes him gay, he speculates.)

Violent Content

While Malcolm's dealings with neighborhood punks are mostly played for laughs, Dope does suggest how grim and sometimes bloody his neighborhood can be. In flashback, a gunfight breaks out in a fast-food restaurant, which we learn kills a young man. (We see his blood-spattered iPod hit the ground.) As mentioned, gunplay also breaks out at Dom's party. (Several people are shot.) And at another eatery, an ancillary character gets plugged in the leg.

Malcolm punches someone in the face. He forces a guy to back off by pointing a gun at him. Somebody points his gun at several bus passengers. Dom and his associates brutally beat up a security guard. People watch footage of drones in action in the Middle East, blowing up buildings and killing people.

A couple of times Diggy slaps Will Sherwood, a white acquaintance …

Crude or Profane Language

… for "affectionately" using the n-word. And I should say here that that particular word is used a lot during Dope, the tally approaching 100. Add to that more than 100 f-words, about 80 s-words, and several other swears, including "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "p---" and "h---." Anatomical crudities include "d--k" and "p---y." The bird is flipped twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Befitting its name, Dope is predicated on drugs—their sale, distribution and use. The main offender here is Ecstasy, also known as MDMA or Molly. And Malcolm certainly does get caught up in the crazy downward spiral it creates, even selling the drug right under the noses of his school's teachers and narcotics-sniffing dogs. But the film ultimately treats the much-abused party drug as a pretty harmless substance, with Diggy partly excusing their distribution scheme by saying it's not like they're selling heroin.

Never mind, then, that Molly clearly has the power to impair and endanger its users. Lily, the first user we see, drives (recklessly) while high, passes out momentarily at a stop sign, runs nearly naked through the streets and urinates in a bush at a busy intersection. She also throws up all over Malcolm's face while under the influence. The drug is renamed "Lily" in her "honor," and we see several snippets of others either taking it or already high from it.

Lily and others also smoke marijuana. Will snorts some sort of drug. Characters smoke cigarettes and cigars. Malcolm and his friends—all underage, remember—drink at Dom's party, and Jib gets seriously wasted, pounding down several shots. At one point, he guzzles a glass of something, throws up all over the floor, and then immediately reaches for another drink. Will apparently distributes his own brand of malt liquor, and when he's asked for help setting up an illegal drug distribution website, he says he wants to be "paid in Molly."

Other Negative Elements

Dope treats police no better than drug dealers, really. The movie pretty much laughs off the idea that Malcolm—being a black teen from L.A.'s mean streets—could actually turn the drugs over to authorities without getting imprisoned and/or shot. Malcolm eventually uses drug money to try to blackmail his way into Harvard. A poker game is shown.

Conclusion

Near the end of Dope, Malcolm muses about the paradox that he is. On one hand, he's an intelligent, likable, straight-A student. On the other, he's a black kid raised by a single mom, attending an underfunded school in one of Los Angeles' worst neighborhoods and, admittedly, has sold drugs. It's his way of pushing back against the stereotype image one might jump to when looking at one side of his background without fully examining him as a whole person.

That message is worthwhile, certainly. It's not just Malcolm who can be stereotyped and judged, after all. All of us have been sometimes put in boxes that may reflect a facet of us, but not all of us. Get to know us, this movie says. Take the time to really see us.

It took just under two hours to see this movie. To get to know it. And while it, like Malcolm, is a multifaceted creation, most of its facets are downright raw and filthy. We see sex and violence. We hear obscene language. We watch this world's sense of morality implode, leaving us very little to pull from the ashes.

If one's upbringing shouldn't fully define a person, then neither can one solid message redeem Dope.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Genre

Comedy

Author

Cast

Shameik Moore as Malcolm; Tony Revolori as Jib; Kiersey Clemons as Diggy; Zoë Kravitz as Nakia; A$AP Rocky as Dom; Roger Guenveur Smith as Austin Jacoby; Blake Anderson as Will Sherwood

Director

Rick Famuyiwa ( Our Family WeddingBrown Sugar)

Distributor

Open Road Films

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

June 19, 2015

On Video

October 13, 2015

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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