Dolemite Is My Name review: Eddie Murphy is sensational in this one-of-a-kind biopic on '70s Blaxploitation icon

Prahlad Srihari

Sep 26, 2019 12:47:56 IST

3.5/5

Before the likes of Donald Glover and Will Smith flexed their multi-hyphenate muscles, there was Eddie Murphy trying to make it in the '80s and '90s as an actor, comedian and singer. And before him, there was Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who became a Blaxploitation icon in the '70s.

 Dolemite Is My Name review: Eddie Murphy is sensational in this one-of-a-kind biopic on 70s Blaxploitation icon

Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name | Netflix

Fittingly, Murphy plays Moore in the Netflix film, Dolemite Is My Name. And even if you had no idea who Moore was before this, you sure will not forget him or his wild story once the credits roll.

The film opens in the early '70s and Moore is still a struggling singer/comedian/emcee who believes his dreams of making it big can still come true. He also believes James Brown is the reason his career didn't take off. "He come out jumping around, doing splits and shit and shaking his black ass and sucked up all the attention," he tells the resident DJ (played by Snoop Dogg) at the record store where he is assistant manager, as he tries to convince him to play some of his old tracks. Moore's aunt-cum-benefactor wants him to be a comic like Bill Cosby, who "tells those family tales about the kids playing in the street, playing jacks and such" (which is played for retrospective laughs).

But hearing the lewd limericks of a foul-mouthed, alcoholic homeless man gives Moore an idea for a fresh nightclub act. He borrows the obscene rhymes to create an onstage persona called Dolemite, a mythic pimp delivering tall tales of his sexual exploits. Murphy perfectly embodies the essence of Dolemite — bright suit, curly wig, cane, moustache and all.

(From L-R) Craig Robinson as Ben Taylor, Mike Epps as Jimmy Lynch, Tituss Burgess as Theodore Toney, Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed | Netflix

(From L-R) Craig Robinson as Ben Taylor, Mike Epps as Jimmy Lynch, Tituss Burgess as Theodore Toney, Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore, and Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed | Netflix

Dolemite becomes an overnight sensation and starts selling bootleg records of his raunchy comedy material. Eventually, he sells enough for a record company to notice and they offer him a deal to distribute it across the US. But Moore yearns for a larger national audience and more mainstream success. So, he gets a socially conscious amateur playwright named Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to write a film about his alter ego. From here, the film essentially turns into the plot of The Disaster Artist as Moore and his friends try to put on a bungling production in a rundown crackhouse for an outrageous film about Dolemite and a harem of kung fu-fighting prostitutes battling every "rat soup eatin' motherf**ker" in LA.

Dolemite Is My Name comes from the same writers who penned the screenplay for Ed Wood. So, it is hard not to think of it as a companion piece to Tim Burton's ode to another Hollywood dreamer. Craig Brewer's film similarly romanticises the dream factory that is cinema. So, it is not just a loving tribute to a counterculture-inspired genre but also to the dreamers whose determination and desire far outweighed their skills and knowledge. As if to say, everyone who has ever dreamed of making movies has a little bit of Rudy Ray Moore in them.

The film blends nostalgia, character study and genre deconstruction into a one-of-a-kind biopic. It painstakingly captures the look, sound and feel of the Blaxploitation era, warts and all. At a time when films featured predominantly white directors, writers, cast and crew, these films found an audience in black communities that were eager to see each other on the big screen every week. So, it embraces the genre's silliness and suggestiveness but also its empowering nature. Critics may have dismissed Dolemite as "Dull-emite", and "coarse, rude, crude and vulgar". But like Moore says: "When the brothers go to movies, they wanna see car crashes, explosions and titties. And we've delivered that." And harsh reviews will only bring more audiences to the cinemas as "they gonna wanna see just how coarse, rude, crude and vulgar Dolemite is."

Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) argues with D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) with Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) in the background | Netflix

Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) argues with D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) with Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) in the background | Netflix

When Moore encounters Lady Reed, an ex-backup singer turned confidante and co-star, he tells her she is the kind of person who "walk arounds with their own spotlight." He may well have been saying it about the actor who plays her — Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who is just divine. Wesley Snipes is a hoot and a half as D'Urville Martin and amplifies the goofy fun as he continually questions himself and his place in the incompetent production of Dolemite. Tituss Burgess (as Theodore Toney), Mike Epps (as Jimmy Lynch), Craig Robinson (as Ben Taylor) and Keegan-Michael Key (as Jerry Jones) make up a great supporting cast.

But Eddie Murphy gives rhythm and soul to the movie. In his very first comeback role, he has already built up his credibility and made it reasonable to believe that he could be cast more often as a leading man, not just as a CGI donkey. In the opening scene, Moore tells Snoop Dogg's DJ: “I ain't lying, man. People love me.” It's true of Murphy too. We still love him.

Dolemite Is My Name was screened at Fantastic Fest, America's largest genre film festival. Firstpost will be reviewing select features as part of our remote coverage of the festival.

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Updated Date: Sep 26, 2019 16:43:13 IST