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Dope (2015)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/13/2015

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/14/2015

In my review for Get Hard, we discussed how odd it seems that race, racial equality, and racism is still a prevalent topic today. Despite great strides in Civil Rights over the past 40 or so years, you can't watch the news for long today without seeing a story which deals with race. There is still clearly a racial divide in America, even at the cinema. We still get movies which are considered "Black Movies", which is just crazy. Shouldn't movies just be movies? And yet, on a very regular basis, a film is released with a predominantly African-American cast and it's aimed at African-American audiences. This seems especially weird when one looks at how racially diverse television shows have become, most notably those aimed at children and teens. But, the "Black Movie" phenomenon still exists, even when it's a film as odd as Dope.

Dope introduces us to Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Jib (Tony Revolori), three friends who live in a bad part of Los Angeles known as The Bottoms. Unlike their peers, Malcolm and his friends like 90s rap music, ride BMX bikes, play in a punk band, and want to do well in school so that they can go to college. In fact, Malcolm has his sights set on Harvard. But, they can't escape the reality of their world, as they are robbed and picked on. A drug dealer named Dom (A$ap Rocky) asks Malcolm to send messages to a woman named Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). By fulfilling this request, Dom takes a liking to Malcolm and invites him to a party. At the party, where Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib do their best to fit in, something goes horribly wrong, and Malcolm soon finds that his backpack is now filled with drugs. Unsure of what to do next, Malcolm tries to find a way use this situation to his advantage.

I'll be honest, I haven't read a lot about Dope, so am I the first one to refer to it as the Black version of Risky Business? Because that's exactly what this movie is. Malcolm's socio-economic circumstances may be radically different from Tom Cruise's, but the plot is incredibly similar in the sense that we get a smart, well-intentioned young man who wants to go to Harvard and finds himself involved with some scandalous characters, an older woman, and a less than ideal situation for his Harvard interview. All that Dope is missing is a crystal piece for the mantle.

So, while Dope's basic premise may not be incredibly original, the first act does try to do something different. Malcolm and his friends go against the stereotypical inner-city kid character by having diverse tastes in popular-culture. (This may seem like a huge departure from the norm, but it's actually a more realistic portrayal of society today. I see Black kids at hard-rock concerts all the time.) They don't look or act like anyone else in the neighborhood and they don't care. They are happy just being themselves and they want a better life than those around them. This part of the film sends a very positive message about believing in yourself and trying to rise above your limitations.

However, the second half of the film becomes much more bleak, dark, and confusing. Once Malcolm realizes that he has the drugs, he and his world change dramatically. His goal of going to Harvard doesn't waiver, but everything else about him goes through a shocking metamorphosis. This is where I think that the film's message becomes very blurry. I don't want to give too much away here, but Malcolm becomes a criminal. Is the film trying to tell us that it's impossible for Malcolm to escape from the influences of his surroundings? That certainly seems to be the case. That no matter how much Malcolm wanted to be his own, unique person, in the end, he was doomed to be like those around him. While this is happening, the movie changes tone and goes from being sort of a quirky character study to more of a straight-ahead crime thriller. As these changes occur, the characters become less appealing. Does this reflect real life and challenge our perceptions? Maybe, but it doesn't make for an enjoyable film.

Writer/Director Rick Famuyiwa makes some odd choices with Dope. The first act really pulled me into the story, while the rest of the film went out of its way to push me away. I don't mind the fact that Malcolm was forced to make some tough choices, but those choices seem to run counter-intuitive to the character which we met in the first act. One can't help but wonder why the movie had to become a fairly typical urban crime thriller. I would have preferred to have seen more misadventures of Malcolm and his friends, as opposed to a crime spree.

Dope also never explains why Malcolm doesn't run with the idea that his band could be a success on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail works well and the depth is admirable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of the most bass-heavy tracks that I can ever remember hearing, as, even at lower volumes, the subwoofer thudding is unavoidable. Perhaps this was meant to accentuate the rap soundtrack, but it's certainly noticeable. This nearly drowns out the stereo and surround sound effects, which work well during the party scene and when the characters are on the street.

The Dope Blu-ray Disc contains only two extras. "Dope is Different" (3 minutes) has the actors giving an overview of the story. So, this is just clips from the movie with some narration. "Dope Music" (3 minutes) has Executive Producer Pharrell Williams commenting on the music used in the film, while the other speakers once again give an overview of the story and also touching on the music.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long