Dope (Cert 15)
Starring: Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Blake Anderson, Bruce Beatty and the voice of Forest Whitaker.
Straight-A student Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) shares a love of 1990s hip hop culture with best friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), a tomboy lesbian who attends church so the congregation can attempt “to pray out the gay”.
One afternoon, as he rides home with his friends, Malcolm encounters local dope dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky), who invites the three friends to a party.
The students are subsequently caught in a police raid, which culminates with Dom hiding a large stash of MDMA in Malcolm’s school backpack. When the student discovers the white powder the next day, he panics.
Malcolm, Diggy and Jib concede that they must become dealers to offload the MDMA and they join forces with stoner computer expert Will (Blake Anderson) to set up their illegal operation.
Dope is a smartly written and hugely entertaining coming-of-age comedy drama, anchored by strong performances from the central trio. These unlikely heroes might lack street savvy and a killer instinct, but they have resourcefulness and youthful exuberance in abundance.
It’s this ability to think outside the box which propels the likeable characters on their madcap misadventures and provides Rick Famuyiwa’s feature with its wry humour and unabashedly heartfelt sense of optimism.
The writer-director creates a rich menagerie of quirky protagonists, who behave selfishly, abominably and irrationally, and are all the more believable for their failings and foibles.
Snappy camerawork and Lee Haugen’s terrific editing invest the visuals with vibrancy and energy, while the soundtrack is a feast of old and new, including original songs penned by Pharrell Williams.
American Ultra (Cert 15)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, Walton Goggins.
The CIA’s top secret Ultra program is deemed a failure and the remaining assets — government-sanctioned assassins — are declassified. Their memories are wiped so they can lead normal lives with new identities.
CIA agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) orders the immediate removal of all remaining Ultra assets using his reconditioned mental patients from the Tough Guy program.
The last Ultra agent in the field is stoner Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg), who works at a convenience store in West Virginia. Mike is blissfully unaware of his blood-spattered past and frets about proposing to his pretty girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart).
CIA handler Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) re-activates Mike then watches in awe as the stoner outmanouevres Yates’ psychotic henchmen and goes on the run with Phoebe.
American Ultra is a bonkers mash-up of a stoner comedy, spy thriller and misfiring romance. Screenwriter Max Landis conjures explosions of cartoon violence and heightened verbal exchanges that look and sound like they have been adapted verbatim from a graphic novel.
In fact, this outlandish caper is an original concept and director Nima Nourizadeh embraces the madness with fervour. Visually, there are neat flourishes, including a fist fight under UV lights and a shoot-out in a kitchen that relies on a precisely angled bullet ricochet from an airborne frying pan.
The tone slaloms wildly between heartfelt and hallucinogenic and ultimately proves the film’s undoing. Eisenberg and Stewart ground their drug-addled romance in reality when the rest of the picture is getting deliriously high.