Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dolemite is My Name

Eddie Murphy stars as entertainer Rudy Ray Moore who reinvents his dated struggling stage show to find new success by assuming the role of a character named Dolemite on stage (inspired by stories told on the streets in the 1970s about a foul-mouthed pimp who wouldn't take shit from anyone). The success of the character would lead to three racy comedy albums, which larger studios feared to touch due to their explicit nature, and even feature films.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski follows Moore from working in a local record store to the rising popularity of his new act and the struggle to self-finance and star in Dolemite (a critically-panned niche film which would go on to become instantly successful in black communities). Rudy Ray Moore is a perfect role for Murphy at this time in his career, and the film works as a heartfelt goofy story of Moore enjoying his sudden popularity after years of anonymity. Given its similar themes, Dolemite is My Name may have felt a bit fresher if it hadn't come out two years after The Disaster Artist, but that's a small complaint for watching Moore, and Murphy, regain a bit of swagger.

There's more than a little of Ed Wood and Tommy Wiseau in Rudy Ray Moore, especially once he sets down the path to making movies. However, a major difference is that Moore is a talented comedian and entertainer whose legacy far outshines just the stories he put to film. There's an earnest and optimistic nature about Murphy's presentation of Moore that seems to infect everyone around him. Moore, and those willing to stick with him, are easy to root for. This charisma and positive outlook helps lay the groundwork by providing context to explain why so many are willing to hang around and ride things out with Moore as he takes larger and larger chances, attempting to cash-in on his success while he can.

The solid supporting cast includes Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, and Keegan-Michael Key as the core figures surrounding Moore and helping on his album and the film. Wesley Snipes also steals a scene or two as actor D'Urville Martin who Moore convinced to act in and direct Dolemite despite its low budget and a cast and crew who knew absolutely nothing about making a film. The movie suggests Martin distanced himself from the film immediately after filming, but I do wonder (given its popularity) whether or not his opinion changed about the project. Because of the style of his act, which included profane rhyming poetry, Moore would later earn the moniker of the Godfather of Rap by introducing an entirely new kind of entertainment. Dolemite is My Name offers a look where that idea came from, and what Moore was able to turn it into over a short period of time by betting on himself and what he believed was possible.

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