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‘Dope’ Sundance Reviews: A Smart, High-Energy Comedy

'Dope' Sundance Reviews: A Smart, High-Energy Comedy

Sundance’s latest breakthrough film is a heartening one. “Dope,” the new film by Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood”), has sold to Open Road Films for $7 million, a staggering figure when considering that the film is by a black director and a primarily black cast. From the sound of the buzz, it was well worth it: critics are calling it a funny, high-energy comedy about growing up black, praising the performances of the young cast (especially nerdy but charismatic lead Shameik Moore) and comparing Famuyiwa’s direction to that of “Pulp Fiction” and “Go.” It’s a film that somehow makes constant references that veer from Ice Cube to Neil deGrasse Tyson to “Yo! MTV Raps” without coming off as pandering. 

Josh Dickey, Mashable

Though Malcolm, a self-described geek, is obsessed with decidedly un-hip ’90s-era hip-hop music, fashion and culture, this is boldly a movie of the moment; in under two hours, Famuyiwa sprinkles in meaningful references to Bitcoin, “Find my iPhone,” Amazon, drones, the dark web, Waze, a Tor Browser, Snapchat, Ancestry.com and the Google Science Fair. It is a dazzling work of writing that somehow manages to make the ’90s look and sound better than they did in the ’90s. Read more.

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

“Dope” isn’t perfect — it’s got a couple too many endings, and it loses the romantic subplot for a distressingly long time. But it moves with amazing energy, the dialogue and soundtrack and imagery a constant stream of pop-culture references, in-jokes, and digressions. Along the way, the film tackles everything from celebrity in the age of social media, to how Amazon’s business model relates to the narcotics trade, to who can use the N-word and who can’t, to the double standards that govern academic achievement, to the meaning of authenticity in a world governed by pre-fab expectation. That Famuyiwa and his cast can keep so many of these balls in the air without everything collapsing into an inchoate mess is remarkable. Read more.

Dennis Harvey, Variety

Sure to be one of the buzzier commercial prospects coming out of Sundance this year, “Dope” is a buoyant teenage caper that has at least as much in common with John Hughes-style high-school comedies as it does with most ‘hood narratives involving drugs, gangs and crime. That mix risks silliness at times, but there’s so much playful energy and wit to Rick Famuyiwa’s indie-est project since “The Wood” (1999) that few viewers will mind. Read more.

Jordan Raup, The Film Stage

Running for nearly two hours with an ambitious sprawl, Famuyiwa hits a snag as the offbeat characters start to pile up along with the many strands he attempts to establish and wrap up. Reminiscent of “Go,” “Boyz n the Hood,” or even “Pulp Fiction” with its manipulation of chronology, “Dope” is ultimately most engaging when it’s simply the three title characters bantering about their pressing criminal situation as they get in far over their head. Read more.

Peter Sciretta, SlashFilm

The film has a lot to say about growing up black in a bad neighborhood with bigger dreams than can be afforded. It’s about subverting expectations and staying true to yourself in the most impossible no win situation. The film provides an interesting portrait of “The Bottoms” area of Inglewood California, filled with gangsters and drug dealers. Inglewood native Famuyiwa said during the question and answer session that the area presents those that grow up there with choices, usually either horrible or worse. Read more.

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

Dope” is a movie that pulls from a wide enough array of culture that it can reference Jay-Z and Neil Degrasse Tyson within a few scenes and the melting pot of decades of pop culture doesn’t feel forced. It’s a film about a generation that doesn’t just observe their entertainment or the devices on which it’s delivered but reshapes it into something new. And it’s a film that brilliantly utilizes modern technology to comedic effect, such as when a drug dealer tracks his stolen goods through Find My iPhone. Read more.

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