Jeffrey Wells to Grantland‘s Wesley Morris: “As a fellow disser of Dope, what are your reactions to its underwhelming box-office performance this weekend? MCN’s Len Klady is eyeballing $6.5 million this weekend and a final theatrical gross of $18 to $20 million. I know that people I spoke to at Sundance thought that Dope would be the next Pulp Fiction or at least a Pulp Fiction in Inglewood, and that it would perform very, very strongly on both sides of the cultural aisle. But maybe not? Maybe it’s too “white” in a certain sense?
Dope “has been the most hotly auctioned film of the [Sundance] festival,” you wrote. “I don’t know whether Open Road and Sony Pictures, who’ve acquired Dope, went for it because it feels, to them, authentically black or because the blackness is familiar to the world’s marketplaces.” Or because Famuyiwa is supplying the kind of “black shit [that] white people like.”
A final theatrical tally of $20 million is better than nothing — it’s not “bad” — but it’s not that great for a movie that was hailed by so many fluttery-voiced Sundance critics as something akin to the Second Coming. Then again maybe it’ll become a sizable hit when it starts streaming. What do I know? I’ll tell you what I know: Dope is nowhere near as good as the Sundance critics were claiming. I was one of the very few (along with Morris) to call bullshit on this particular strain of Park City hype.
On 1.26.15 I wrote that Dope “will almost certainly be a hit,” but I added the following: “For all its keep-it-comin’ energy Dope is smartly assembled exploitation crap. Okay, not fair. It’s too superficially engaging to be called ‘crap’ but it’s definitely insubstantial — a fleet, Tarantino-like hodgepodge of fantasy bullshit in the vein of a New Line Cinema release from the ’90s (i.e., House Party), and adapted to the general sensibility of 2015.
“In other words it’s fun as far as it goes but definitely not that great. Everything that happens fits a carefully calculated Hollywood street sensibility and is right the fuck on the nose; nothing is soft or subtle or indirect.”