Risky Business


Seems like those coming-of-age “day in the life of” movies are some of the most memorable. The awkward, pressure-filled years of high school make for entertaining subject matter, and Dope gave me that nostalgic feeling, hearkening back to classic movies like House Party, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Risky Business, where hapless high school students find themselves in a sticky situation. Set against a unique yet familiar California backdrop, the movie was a cool homage to 90’s culture with enough current hipster-isms to be perfectly relevant to today’s times.

Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Jib (Tony Revolori) are three 90’s-obsessed best friends living in Inglewood, California. In the microcosmic world that is high school, they’re considered geeks – but their love of hip hop from the recent past is ironically as cool as it gets. Malcolm is aware that his story is clichéd: he comes from a single-parent household; never really met his father, and lives in a rough neighborhood. He distinguishes himself by going against the grain in both the company he keeps and their shared avant-garde musical pursuits. Unfortunately, their punk band’s biggest fan is probably the school custodian. Malcolm is college-bound, hoping that his stellar grades and SAT scores will secure him admission to Harvard.

Has there ever been a geek in a movie that didn’t predictably pine away for a beautiful girl presumably out of his league? Nakia (Zoe Kravitz, Fury Road) is the object of Malcolm’s affection, an older girl from the neighborhood who similarly aspires to more than her surroundings. When they cross paths and she casually invites him to a party – Malcolm and his crew know they have to be there. At the party, Malcolm inadvertently gets tangled up with the local dope boy and finds himself in a crazy predicament that threatens all the hard work he’s done to prepare for his future.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but suffice to say that Dope was a fun ride. The soundtrack featured much of the music I grew up with, and most thirty-somethings and 80’s babies alike will appreciate the song placement as well as the characters’ affinity for the culture. There are some notable names attached to the film, as Forest Whitaker is credited with producing and narrating. Additionally, Pharrell Williams is an executive producer, and his musical influence on the young trio’s aesthetic is obvious. Sure the plot went left a couple of times – but this is not a movie to be dissected. I was surprised to see so many older people of varying backgrounds in the theater – so maybe this film has universal appeal for anyone who remembers their awkward (or awesome) high school days. Dope was dope. Grade: A-

Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise (most recently of Knight and Day) used to be one of my favorite actors.  Then, his public perception began to decline after marrying Katie Holmes.  An unfortunate appearance on Oprah and some ill-advised comments about Brooke Shields’ post partum depression didn’t help matters.  It seemed like people were no longer focusing on the movies; they were focused on the Scientology and the wacky behavior.  Cruise has been a certified hit machine since Risky Business.  He’s given us classics like Top Gun and Rain Man.  It would take the passage of time and several enjoyable movies for people to move past the punch lines of a few years ago.  With the latest edition to his blockbuster Mission: Impossible franchise, maybe Cruise has finally returned to being the likable star he once was.

The Mission: Impossible franchise has always been a good one, with the first movie in the series opening in 1996.  It’s the only Mission: Impossible that I own on DVD and it remains the most suspenseful of the four movies.   Ghost Protocol finds Ethan Hunt being busted out of a Russian prison by fellow IMF agents Jane (Paula Patton, Precious) and Benji (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz).  They need Ethan’s help to find the assassin who recently killed another agent.  Furthermore, Ethan’s official mission is to prevent the same assassin from delivering nuclear launch codes to a Russian madman.  When the team botches a plan to break into the Kremlin, the entire agency is disavowed in the wake of a perceived potential return to the Cold War era.  ‘Ghost Protocol’ is initiated, and the agents are on their own. They must clear themselves of the Kremlin incident and still prevent the Russian lunatic from getting the launch codes.  After Hunt’s contact tells him about the Ghost Protocol, they add government analyst and former agent Jeremy Renner (The Town, The Hurt Locker) to the mix.

Ok, let’s talk about what worked and what did not work.  First of all, the plot was very simplified this time around.  I’ve seen a million action movies, and sometimes the plot gets really intricate, almost to the point of being unnecessary.  Here, things are pretty straightforward.  Nuclear weapons are bad. Russian man wants to launch one.  That would be bad; he must be stopped.  If you’ve seen more than one Mission: Impossible movie, you know there will be lots of action and some great stunt work.  I tip my hat to Cruise for always being up for the challenge.  His scenes on the side of a skyscraper in Dubai were heart stopping.  The gadgets can’t compare to those in the 007 movies, but the cars and high-speed chases make up for that.  Cruise is still in great shape after all these years, and I laughed at an extended foot chase scene similar to one featured in Mission: Impossible 3.  He’s still got ‘it.’  You can count on him and Will Smith to run their asses off in a movie.  Tom Cruise was even running like the wind all over town in The Firm, briefcase flopping everywhere – remember that movie? I digress.

Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol was an entertaining movie, but it was good – not great.  A few really great scenes, including a suspenseful opening sequence, and the aforementioned foot chase through a blinding sandstorm, held the movie together.  Cruise can play Ethan Hunt in his sleep.  Jeremy Renner continues to show his versatility, and Simon Pegg provided great comedic timing and comic relief.  Which brings me to Paula Patton.  She turned down a recurring role on Law & Order: SVU to take this role, and at first I thought that was a mistake.   There’s an obvious upside to appearing alongside Tom Cruise, but I thought the stability of a television series with a strong following would have been better for her career.  Is Thandie Newton (For Colored Girls) a big star because she was in Mission: Impossible 2? I don’t think so.  But, after further consideration – I think I was wrong.  Ghost Protocol was a good look for Ms. Patton.  She showed that she could hold her own in an action movie and look beautiful while doing it.  However, there were some awkward moments that could have been left on the cutting room floor.  I picked up on some unintentional comedy in the way she delivered a few of her lines, and I think she should continue to improve as an actress.

You know what you’re getting with Mission: Impossible, but I thought it made for an enjoyable day at the movies.  It wasn’t the best installment in the franchise, but it’s definitely worth checking out.