“Dolemite is My Name,” by the immensely-talented Craig Brewer, is a pleasant surprise and certainly one of the most entertaining and emotionally satisfying films I have seen this year.
The wildly-vulgar character of Dolemite was the brainchild of struggling seventies comedian Rudy Ray Moore. Moore’s material was too raw for the major record labels of those days, but the success of his underground and self-promoted comedy albums finally gave him the cult fame he chased after and sparked the desire to bring his creation to the big screen.
With determination and help from friends who believe in him (and helped him overcome almost crushing self-doubt), Moore transforms from assistant manager at an L.A. record store to Dolemite, one of the most original and popular characters in the blaxploitation explosion. The origins of Moore’s design were new to me and I will let you discover it for yourself.
After seeing Billy Wilder’s 1974 remake of “The Front Page,” Moore and his friends decide they must make a comedy that will speak to black audiences, as only Dolemite could! Moore is confident they can make a fun and funny film for black people and because they are fully outside the studio system (and because this is the wild and unchained character of Dolemite) they get to do it with sex and kung-fu. Moore keeps telling his people, “We gotta have kung-fu. Brothers like kung-fu!”
It is in the making of the film where “Dolemite Is My Name” really takes off. Watching Moore put together his cast and crew and giving it the old “fake it ‘till you make it” spin is an absolute delight.
Moore spends almost all of his minuscule budget on an abandoned hotel, turning it into an makeshift studio. Working with an amateur crew, the adventure of bringing Dolemite to the big screen ignites the fire in both the director and the screenplay.
Directed by Brewer from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, this is electrifying entertainment that overcomes any by-the-books standard biopic trappings by getting to the heart of Rudy Ray Moore and the “family” he surrounds himself with. Writers Alexander and Karaszewski did this so well in Tim Burton’s masterpiece, “Ed Wood” and succeed once again here. The two are experts at bringing across the natural familial friendships of their characters without making it seem phony or forced. Their enthusiasm and respect for their characters is one of many things that makes this film so special.
The entire cast is pure gold. Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, and Tituss Burgess all do fine backup character work as members of Moore’s life and crew. They all respect this man’s determination and loyalty, each one giving it back to their leader in spades. There are no overly dramatic scenes of “O.K., then, I quit!” This crew believe in their friend and surround him with their full support and love.
A special shout out to a wonderful actress whom I was previously unaware of. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as Moore’s protege “Lady Reed,” is as heartfelt and real a portrayal you are likely to see this year. It is wonderful work that gets to the heart of this character who becomes an important part of Rudy Ray Moore’s life and career. Their friendship and Randolph’s performance develop organically and every minute the actress is on the screen is absolute magic. If Hollywood pays attention, I see a big future for Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
A twenty-one-gun salute is in order for the great Wesley Snipes. The actor has been crawling his way back to bigger and better films over the past ten or so years, and here his return is cemented! Snipes plays D’Urville Martin, a bit player in Hollywood who thinks he is a big-time player because he was in Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” In a very funny retort to that boastful claim one character says, “oh yeah, you were the elevator operator!” Watching Snipes try to talk over the insult while hiding the disgust on his face is completely hilarious. From his mannerisms to his diction to his complete immersion into his character, Wesley Snipes gives one of his best performances and (if the movie gods are paying any attention) this is the one that should secure the actor a spot for Best Supporting Actor when the nominations are announced this coming January.
Eddie Murphy—Welcome back, old friend. It’s been a long while. Craig Brewer casting him as Dolemite has given Eddie Murphy his chance at Oscar gold. The comedian has always paid respect to those who influenced him and Dolemite was no exception. Rudy Ray Moore was a pioneer, and this is Murphy coming full circle as he pays his dues through homage and respect.
I compare Murphy’s work here to Anthony Hopkins’s turn in Oliver Stone’s 1995 “Nixon.” Hopkins didn’t really look like Richard Nixon, but he completely inhabited the character, in fact, disappeared into him.
Eddie Murphy does the same thing. He doesn’t look or sound too much like Rudy Ray Moore but his mannerisms and diction are perfection. Somewhere along the way, Murphy disappears and Dolemite comes alive. Simply put (and peppered with an inescapable hyperbole) Eddie Murphy is pure dynamite in this film. He gets inside his character’s soul, inhabiting both Moore and Dolemite with the skill of the best method actors. And the Oscar goes to… Eddie Murphy!
As wild, vulgar, and entertaining as the man himself, “Dolemite is My Name” is an enthusiastic gem. Eddie Murphy leads the charge in a film that is alive with charm, big laughs, and wonderful characterizations. Most importantly, this film has a heart and in today’s Hollywood that is a rare and welcome gift.
Film was produced by David Entertainment and Netflix. Currently available for viewing on Netflix.