RICK FAMUYIWA'S new movie Dope launched an all-night bid-off between distribution companies at Sundance, and it's easy to see why. Shameik Moore stars as Malcolm, a nerdy high-school kid from a rough LA neighborhood, who's obsessed with '90s hip-hop and just wants to get into Harvard and play punk songs about eating food and having a great day with his fellow nostalgia-obsessed geeks, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel's Tony Revolori).
Alas, it's not to be (yet)—Malcolm gets roped into offloading a whole bunch of drugs for a dealer played by none other than A$AP Rocky. (If you've seen Lana Del Rey's video for "National Anthem," you already knew that A$AP Rocky can act; if you haven't, please educate yourself.)
Toast the Knowing Zoe Kravitz, Pharrell (!), and Workaholics' Blake Anderson round out the cast. Anderson in particular is cringe-inducingly perfect as the politically incorrect code-monkey who helps Malcolm cover his tracks by using Bitcoin for illicit transactions. Meanwhile, Malcolm and his friends, who have spent their whole lives trying to avoid this very predicament, find themselves chased across Inglewood by rival gangs. It's a comedy—the jokes land—but the stakes are not low.
Dope isn't perfect. It contains no shortage of teen-movie cliches, but unlike the teen sex comedies that proliferated during the '90s, it isn't rotten at the core; and the way Moore plays it, the happy ending you know is coming doesn't read like pure wish fulfillment either. And unlike most movies that address underground economies, Dope doesn't ever set up a false dichotomy between where Malcolm comes from and where he's headed—he sells drugs on the internet and gets into Harvard. In this sense, Famuyiwa manages the impossible: He remixes the teen movie genre into something smarter—and more political.