xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
“Dope” begins with an onscreen definition, which is a known characteristic of satires that ultimately fail in their satiric visions. Usually, these films open with a definition of satire, which they don’t live up to by the closing credits. “Dope” opts instead for Webster’s take on its title, defining it as slang for a stupid person, drugs and something that’s cool. To “Dope”’s credit, it presents us with credible examples of all three; to its detriment, “Dope” alternates between being shockingly tone-deaf and surprisingly on-point.
A narrator (producer Forrest Whitaker) introduces us to Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends Jib (Tony Revolori from “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). The narrator tells us they’re into “White shit like getting good grades and going to college.” Straight-A student Malcolm dreams of Harvard, though his advisor doesn’t think he’s serious enough because Malcolm’s entry essay is a dissertation on Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day.”
Malcolm and his crew also have a punk band where they sing catchy ditties penned by producer Pharrell Williams, though Malcolm feels a kinship with all things ‘90s, from its hip-hop artists to the hi-top fade that adorns his head until the last reel. The soundtrack is filled with a greatest hits collection of 90’s rap, proving itself far more knowledgeable than our hero. This is a kid who thinks Eric B. and Rakim’s 1986 masterpiece, “Paid In Full,” dropped in the '90s. Later, someone corrects Malcolm for trying to steal another 80’s classic for his lackluster decade.
But I digress. Everyone lives in Inglewood, California in a neighborhood called “The Bottoms”, and when writer-director Rick Famuyiwa focuses on the minutiae of Malcolm’s daily travails navigating his ‘hood, “Dope” is addictive. Famuyiwa has covered Inglewood before, in his superior 1999 feature, “The Wood,” and he provides a knowing jolt of familiarity for those of us who grew up in similar circumstances. I found a lot to identify with in Malcolm, who is the type of Black nerd rarely seen on the big screen. I was that nerd, too. I nodded knowingly as he described how every route from school to his house had its own unique dangers. I rocked his hairstyle, though when I did it, it was in fashion. I knew all about dope dealers, addicts and people who’d jack you for your sneakers (though I was too broke to buy any footwear they’d want to steal). And I felt a pain in my gut reminiscing how many times I was accused of “wannabe White” because I was into schoolwork and “keeping it real” hadn’t been coined yet.