Shameik Moore in Dope.

Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa finds a creative way to make his Dope a throwback/homage to the best of Spike Lee’s films.

He makes his protagonist, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a hardcore fan of late ’80s and early ’90s black and pop culture—to the point where he dresses the part and fronts a throwback band. This gives the film an instant Do the Right Thing sort of feel. It also helps that the likes of Public Enemy are on the soundtrack—and Roger Guenveur Smith (Smiley from Do the Right Thing) has a prominent role.

Malcolm is a straight-A student trying to get into Harvard, and he finds himself needing to do some pretty shady things on his path to success (echoes of Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business).

The movie is one of the year’s funniest, and it has a strong message about racial stereotyping at its core. In addition to a strong and winning performance from Moore, Rakim Mayers is strong as Dom, the local drug-dealer, and Zoe Kravitz is terrific as Moore’s love interest. Dope is one of the year’s great, out-of-nowhere surprises.

Dope is playing at theaters across the valley.