*Warning: Spoilers Below*
Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.
Directed by Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”), the most salient credit in framing the film actually belongs to writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. That’s because their credits include the semi-classic “Ed Wood,” Tim Burton’s ode to the schlock director, a similarly pitched period pieces that also focused on a guy labouring to produce low-budget movies while surrounded by colourful but quirky characters.
Twenty years have passed since Eddie Murphy last used the kind of R-rated profanity he frequently employs in “Dolemite Is My Name,” and it’s a homecoming of sorts. After decades of comedic PG and PG-13 rated fare, not to mention more dramatic turns like his Oscar-nominated role in “Dreamgirls” and his unwise choice of “Mr. Church,” the self-proclaimed “Mister F–k You Man” is back.
The question of whether Eddie Murphy has got his mojo back – or if it had ever gone away – is probably beside the point, considering his richly enjoyable starring role in this true showbiz story about the eternal excitement of putting on the show right here.
Director Craig Brewer’s comedy drama shines bright because of, above all else, its incandescent leading man. Eddie Murphy is well and truly back, in a role that lets him fashion dynamite out of thin air, giving an everyman the tools to conquer the world. His Rudy Ray Moore, the man behind the Dolemite character, is a performer through and through (stand-up, dancing, telling fortunes). Whatever it takes, he’ll do it.
Everybody loves an underdog. Rudy Ray mirrors this part in his characterisation of Dolemite and is already well known in the community of show business. His struggle to break into Hollywood is a cliche storyline brought to light with new life. Against all odds — a lack of electricity on set, refusals to buy his movie, no kung-fu skills and bad reviews in the press — the movie becomes a mass hit within the black community.
The film depicts perfectly the life of working-class citizens and shows the inequalities between the white and black communities. This extends to Hollywood and show business. Many black performers are exploited by white agencies who would otherwise pay or treat white performers better.
This blunt display of how institutionalised racism in the time period impacted hard-working people such as Rudy Ray. With the spirit of his community behind him he pulled off the impossible and it paid off. The movie was a sensation and this true-story will surely follow the original’s success by paying homage to the inspiration that caused it’s production.
Even when white students are employed to film the movie, the cast and crew are not discouraged. They take this opportunity to learn new skills from these young people who also believe in the cause of Rudy’s movie. Alongside the black members of the team, they are happy to work unpaid to make the movie happen. It’s a film about faith.
Scenes from the real Rudy Ray’s film were re-enacted, such as the lovemaking scene written passionately and acted comically by improv. Rudy’s kind nature toward the people who help him create his masterpiece is consistently shown through his behaviour towards those struggling. He’s an empath not only seeking to further his own career but the careers of all black people in his community and boost confidence.
An intriguing cast siphons through Moore’s orbit, from Wesley Snipes (a little too over the top) and Keegan-Michael Key as the grudging actor/director and writer, respectively, that Rudy enlists, to Chris Rock and Snoop Dogg as deejays.
A Portrait of the Artist As A Not-So-Young Man: In addition to the sights and sounds of Moore and Dolemite’s world, the film expertly recreates the creative process through which the former built and inhabited the latter. This isn’t a biopic. With a few subtle but effective exceptions, details on Moore’s life outside of his work are short and not relevant to the story Dolemite Is My Name is telling. But it’s arguably more loyal and more interesting than most films that stick to basic biographical hallmarks.
Murphy is also surrounded by a loaded cast more than up to the task of keeping up with him. Snipes’ turn as the wry and mildly exasperated Dolemite director D’Urville Martin is the perfect foil for Murphy’s Moore. Robinson and Burgess continue to prove that they’re some of the funniest actors working today. And Da’Vine Joy Randolph is absolutely magnetic as Lady Reed. It’s the kind of breakthrough role that, in a just world, would pave the way to allow the actress to pursue whatever projects she wants.
Appleby Ink Rating ★★★★★