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)