July 13, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

At first blush, this is a film we have seen many versions of before: “good guys” get caught up in the “bad guy” world through some improbable chain of events and now have to stay one step ahead of everyone while they extricate themselves. If the film is a drama, don’t expect it to end well. If it’s a comedy, as this one is, you can expect all sorts of hilarity to ensue. However, while this film follows that formula by the numbers, it is also doing something slightly more subversive. Malcom (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) are nerds stuck in 90s fashion, slang and music attending high school in Inglewood and dreaming of college when, through a Rube-Goldbergian chain of events, they end up with a backpack full of MDNA and a variety of interested parties making demands. Where things get interesting is in the sly social commentary about race and class that is getting made here. At one point, our protagonists visit a guy who makes knock off designer fashion. He shows Malcolm two bags and asks which one is real. The right answer is that it depends on who’s carrying it; either bag is real for a wealthy white person and, if Malcolm were carrying it, it could have the receipt and it wouldn’t matter. In other words, your validity is in the perception of others. This is a powerful and evocative message, especially as it applies to race, and could not be more timely. But it is most effectively presented here when it is applied with a light brush. At times, the film gets too expository, as either Malcolm or the narrator (Forest Whitaker) feel the need to spell out the message for the audience. Perhaps it is needed. Perhaps most viewers would miss it otherwise. But, for me, it felt a bit too much like a hammer where none was needed. Directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood,” “Brown Sugar”), this film has a host of notable executive producers, including Sean Combs (whose son is in the film), Pharrell Williams and Whitaker. Rappers A$AP Rocky, Tyga and Casey Veggies (who’s music is cleverly mentioned in one scene) all have parts, along with Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny and Lisa Bonet). It’s clear why folks wanted to be involved in the movie. Scratch below its formulaic surface and there is definitely something more going on here.


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