Movie ReviewsOff the Chain (Dope Review)

Keith NoakesApril 1, 2016

High-school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) bond over ’90s hip-hop culture, their studies and playing music in their own punk band. A chance encounter with a drug dealer named Dom (Rakim Mayers) lands Malcolm and company at the dealer’s nightclub birthday party; when the scene turns violent, they flee, with the ecstasy that Dom secretly hid in Malcolm’s backpack. A wild adventure ensues as the youths try to evade armed thugs who want the stash.

Now another one to write off my list. There were only real two big “gangster” films this year, this one and Straight Outta Compton which I’ve reviewed here. I don’t remember why I didn’t see this one the first time but I will admit that I wasn’t too serious about seeing movies until later on in the year (2015) when I first started this site. I kind of wish I did. It definitely did not go as expected and in this case, that’s a good thing.

The story here involves high-school seniors Malcolm (Moore) and his friends Jib (Revolori) and Diggy (Clemons). Their friendship revolves mostly around 90s hip-hop, studying, and playing music in their own punk band. After an encounter with a local drug dealer named Dom (Mayers) which led them to a nightclub for his birthday party which later turned violent resulting in them fleeing with ecstasy that Dom hid in Malcolm’s backpack. Adventure ensues when the friends must evade the thugs who want the drugs for themselves.

What I especially liked about this one is how it is able to subvert cliches and stereotypes of African-American people. One way in which they did was through the characters of Malcolm and his friends. Sure, they came from the poorer, less fortunate part of town but they don’t go down the path that would usually entail. I liked that Malcolm and his friends were not your usual teenagers as they were nerds here who were actually nerds and did not fall victim to the world around them. They also didn’t let their nerdiness define them as the film was about defying labels and being their own people.

All of this was pretty much was what the whole film was about, Malcolm and his friends trying to make the best decisions for themselves in the hopes of overcoming their environment. Like a coming-of-age story of sorts. This was fun to watch since Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy were very compelling characters. They were fun to follow around as their chemistry made them very watchable. This is because of the performances of Moore, Revolori, and Clemens (but mostly Moore and more on that later) and a good script (especially in the case of their characters). I thought it was a good script in that I could never really tell where the plot was going. When I thought it was going in one direction, it then takes another.

What surprised me was how funny it was as this film also worked as a comedy. Comedy was used mostly to ease the tension and to make light of the situation. Being where they are and who they are meant a lot of tension, be it racial, social, or financial. This again could be attributed to the script. The film a great job at demonstrating the type of environment in which these characters were in, you really felt like you were there. The film had a great style to it which definitely made things just stand out.

While we see characters making morally questionable decisions, we never really get to see the consequences of their actions. Another problem I had here were a few moments plot-wise which did not make sense to me and seemed a little too convenient. Jib and Diggy served as great characters but I would have liked to have seen more development on both their parts. Lastly, I didn’t have a problem with this myself but the film uses the n-word quite liberally so some may be offended.

Quibbles aside, what made up for most of it has to be Moore’s performance as Malcolm. I thought he was great here as he just embodies the character perfectly, capturing his inner conflict while also trying to hold everything together despite what was happening around him. It was great to watch his character develop over the course of the film.

Overall, this was a great, smart film with an original story, led by a great performance by Moore.

Score: 8.5/10

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