Dolemite Is My Name Movie Review

There are plentiful amounts of F bombs thrown out in Dolemite Is My Name. They are the kind that you associated with Eddie Murphy years ago. The F no longer stands for the family fare he starred in that bombed at the box office. Think Pluto Nash. Or Meet Dave. Or Imagine That. No, this belongs in a small sub genre of pictures where some of the players here have had involvement before. Dolemite tells the true story of a man breaking into the movie business with wide eyed spirit and contagious tenacity. The quality of the material produced is secondary.

Murphy is Rudy Ray Moore, who’s working at a record shop in L.A. when we begin. He has dreams of stardom, but the general consensus is that his time has passed. Rudy just won’t let that happen as he develops a comic persona that is one part rhyming (he ended up being a huge influence in the hip hop community), one part glorious 70s outfits of the era, and all parts raunchy as hell.

He achieves success in the underground comedy world where his records sell, but a screening of the Billy Wilder pic The Front Page gives him another idea. Rudy doesn’t see humorous material on the screen for the black audience and he’s going to be the one to give it to them. Obtaining financing (even at the height of the blaxploitation genre) is next to impossible so he’s creative in his methods.

Surrounding Rudy is a colorful (especially the clothes) and eclectic group of collaborators who aren’t entirely sure what they’ve gotten themselves into. They include actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes, having a ball). He never fails to remind others that he had a big part in Rosemary’s Baby and only joins the picture when he’s allowed to direct. Keegan-Michael Key is the screenwriter who thinks he’s making the kind of serious drama he writes for the stage. When kung fu and set shattering sex scenes take precedence, that notion is dispelled. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a scene stealer as Lady Reed, Rudy’s stand-up partner plucked out of a Southern bar.

Screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander have travelled this road before with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Murphy gave one of his finest performances 20 years ago in Bowfinger, where his costar Steve Martin was a director with unbridled and naive enthusiasm. The Disaster Artist with James Franco mined similar territory. So while Dolemite does feel familiar in its beats, it has its own brand of passion for its unlikely star.

We have the headliner to thank for it. This is Live From Netflix and is indeed Eddie Murphy’s show. The performer seems more inspired than he has in some time. It might help if you’re a Dolemite devotee (Murphy and many of the cast members are). Yet this is an entertaining watch either way as we watch a legend in his element.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Dolemite Is My Name

Ahead of its October 25 Netflix release, Dolemite Is My Name introduced itself to critics this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. Seen as a comeback role for Eddie Murphy, early reviews suggest it’s just that. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who was instrumental to ushering in the blaxploitation genre of the 1970s with his title character. Craig Brewer, best known for helming Hustle & Flow, directs with a supporting cast including Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Snoop Dogg, and T.I.

In 2006, Eddie was seen as the front runner in Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls. He was upset by Alan Arkin’s work in Little Miss Sunshine. This has been eyed as his first chance at Academy attention since. The issue could be significant competition in a Best Actor derby that appears stacked already.

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote the original screenplay and they’ve specialized in highlighting colorful entertainment figures in Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Once again, they could face trouble nabbing nods as that writing race is jam packed.

So while Dolemite should succeed in garnering the kind of praise its star hasn’t seen for some time, awards chatter might be elusive. There could be one noteworthy exception. Ruth Carter’s costume design has been noted in numerous write ups. Just last year, she became the first African-American to win that category for Black Panther. She could find herself in the mix again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…