Dope (2015)
Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoe Kravitz, Chanel Iman, Kimberly Elise. Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa.

Malcolm should not be in the club. He’s under-aged, he’s not invited, he’s turned away at the door by the bouncer, and he’s only there to spend time with a young woman who’s involved with the neighborhood’s charismatic but dangerous Molly dealer. Every choice Malcolm makes after he gets into the club is potentially deadly, morally questionable, certainly illegal, and somehow the least of all evils, and it is difficult to condemn him for his actions in most of the story. You have to go way back in the film to this early decision if you’re looking for a way to blame him convincingly, but this is definitely where you can say it’s all his fault.

That young woman, though. She (played by Zoe Kravitz) is beautiful and flirty, and Malcolm is a nerdy high-school senior with a Harvard interview in a few days, a black teenager at a public school in Inglewood, so geeky about 1990s hip-hop that he sports a Kid ‘N Play fade in the 2010s, and every seventeen-year-old, nerdy or not, has made a bad choice or two in the name of getting close to a beautiful, flirty woman.

His guidance counselor believes Harvard is a pipe dream, saying that everything about his circumstance lines up against him, despite his academic record. Whether the counselor is right or wrong is the heart of this film’s message. If Harvard wants the best, brightest young minds, is it willing to take them from Malcolm’s neighborhood? Except for his one excursion to the club, Malcolm has spent his life staying away from trouble in order to get into the Ivy League, yet he is told that it’s not enough.

There are several ways you could comfortably pigeonhole Dope, but if you change its setting and characters, and delete the what’s-the-moral final two minutes, you still have a good story that makes the film more than just one title in a category. The acting is solid, even if the plot relies on a few coincidences too many, and the pacing is excellent. It’s a funny, tense movie worth bumping up the queue.

75/100 (Criticker rating)
7/10 (IMDb rating)