‘Dolemite Is My Name’: Eddie Murphy Is Tremendous as Comedian Rudy Ray Moore
In the opening scene of Netlix’s Rudy Ray Moore biopic, “Dolemite Is My Name,” an argument between Eddie Murphy and Snoop Dogg, that takes place in a makeshift radio booth at a record store, wastes no time in establishing how jaded the industry has made the comedian (portrayed by Murphy). Rudy knows he is a triple threat as a performer; he can sing, dance, and do stand-up. But he ain’t no James Brown, he doesn’t look like Billy Dee Williams, and he definitely is not a Bill Cosby type. Nobody seems to pay his talents any mind. “Brother, we missed our shot,” Snoop Dogg’s DJ character tells him.
“Dolemite Is My Name” plays like a slicker, star power-driven version of Mario Van Peebles’ “Baadasssss!” Both films are directly inspired by ‘70s blaxploitation smash hits and tell the unbelievable true stories of their troubled productions. Audiences who have seen Peebles’ marvelous satire about his father’s (Melvin Van Peebles) struggle to get his film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” made, may find that Dolemite walks over much of the same territory as a commentary on the struggles of independent black filmmakers, while being a rip-roaring good time.
Rudy Ray Moore is getting sick and tired of hearing the same old songs on the radio at the Los Angeles store he manages. He’s a lover with big dreams and can’t believe that the world can’t see all the talent they’re missing in the world, while he’s stuck behind a counter. “I only play the hits,” the Snoop’s DJ tells him. Inspiration strikes after he realizes that the street story ramblings of a homeless man may be his ticket to fame. “I ain’t no hobo,” the man preaches, “I’m a repository of African-American folklore!” Rudy pays him a visit and records his rhythmic ramblings on a tape recorder.
He soon starts writing comedy material around the liquor store wiseman’s legends, taking poetic flourishes and expressive details to use as his own. It isn’t long before Rudy dons a pimp suit, bowtie and fake afro, strutting his way up into the spotlight of his local club, proudly calling himself Dolemite. His act is an immediate hit with the community, but after the record companies turn Rudy’s lewd material down, he decides to sell his comedy album out of his trunk, and through the record store, using clever packaging strategies to push the racy cover art to locals. It becomes a smash hit, and it isn’t long before Rudy is trying to produce and star in a movie about his persona, to further carve out his identity as an artist.
It becomes abundantly clear that Rudy knows nothing about making a motion picture. He hires a skeleton cinematography crew of film student types to help make “Dolemite,” along with passionate writer Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) and blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin (a hysterical, scene stealing performance by Wesley Snipes) to direct the film. Turning an abandoned hotel with no running electricity into a production studio, Rudy has a sea of ideas he wants to incorporate into his movie (an “all-girl” Kung Fu army, for example). Once the production troubles begin “Dolemite’s” humor doesn’t let up, but the film still retains its raw humanity despite leaning heavily on ridiculous comedy.
“Dolemite Is My Name” is some of the most impassioned fun you’ll have watching a movie this year. The costume work is outstanding and both Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes deliver their best performances in over a decade. “Dolemite” is a rising star biopic that serves as a powerful comeback vehicle for two talented performers. It’s a film about untapped potential, exploring the very concept of missed opportunities through its casting choices. Keegan-Michael Key is also fantastic as a creative scribe who values his craft so vehemently that he waxes to Rudy about the urban motifs that must be incorporated into their grindhouse fare. “Dolemite Is My Name” delivers on that artistic philosophy in spades, providing plenty of laughs and insightful discussions along the way.
“Dolemite Is My Name” releases Oct. 4 in select theaters and begins streaming Oct. 24 on Netflix.