Director Crag Brewer and comedy icon Eddie Murphy bring the story of multi-talented entertainment pioneer Rudy Ray Moore to life in Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name. The time is 1970’s Los Angles and struggling singer Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) is doing his best to have his music played on the radio. Moore spends his days working in a record store and his nights hanging out with his friends and moonlighting as an MC for his friend Ben (Craig Robinson).
One day during a casual conversation with a local wino, who’s in the records store reciting vulgar poetry, Rudy realizes he’s gone about his career path all wrong. Rudy decides to create a stage persona known as “Dolemite” and begins to tell stories at local clubs. Rudy’s popularity grows, and soon the record companies show interest. Once Rudy finds success with comedy albums, he realizes the film market is missing urban style comedy and sets out to bring his character of Dolomite to the big screen. Collaborating with playwright Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to pen the script and negotiating with well-known Blaxploitation actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to direct co-star in the film, Rudy pulls out every trick in the book to achieve his goal.
My first introduction to the character of “Dolemite,” was at the age of nine, when the character name was dropped in the film House Party. A few years later, I saw Dolemite for sale at my local video store and bought it on a whim. While I found Dolemite to be hilarious, from a film-making standpoint, it’s pretty awful and filled with errors. However, the cult-like appeal of Dolemite is universal, and over the years, I’ve gained more appreciation for the film.
Eighties babies and comedy fans will be happy to know that foul-mouthed Eddie is back. In fact, Dolemite Is My Name is Eddie Murphy’s first R rated movie in twenty years. However, I must point out Dolemite Is My Name isn’t a remake of the original Dolemite; instead, it’s an inspirational biopic. Despite a few missteps in his career, Eddie Murphy has always had a natural screen presence. Personally, I still quote lines from the first nine films in Murphy’s filmography during his tenure with Paramount Pictures. For those reasons alone, Murphy was the perfect choice to play Rudy Ray Moore. The moment Murphy appears on the screen, he embodies the role of Moore. Instead of doing an impersonation, Murphy uses his natural charm to pay homage to Moore.
The supporting cast of the film features a vast array of black talent. Everyone from rappers T.I and Snoop Dogg to comedians Mike Epps and Chris Rock make appearances. Theater actors Titus Burgess and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, whose work I wasn’t familiar with, were also great. I must say that next to Murphy, the second-best performance in the film is Wesley Snipes as D’Urville Martin. Snipes, who thought was going to be stuck in the direct to video market forever, delivers an award-worthy performance and almost steals the movie from Murphy. One of Snipes’s character’s line, resonated with me so well, I find myself using it daily,
Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who spent years researching Rudy Ray Moore’s life, don’t take warts and all approach to the biopic, which is a small issue. I would’ve liked to see a scene or two, which explains what inspired Moore to become an entertainer. Thankfully director Craig Brewer keeps the film moving a quick pace, creating a smooth juxtaposition of comedy and drama.
Aristotle once said, “Quality is not an act; it’s a habit.” Walking out of the film, I began to understand while Rudy Ray Moore and his friends didn’t make an Oscar-worthy film with Dolemite, they did accomplish a dream. Award-worthy performances, quotable lines, and a happy ending make Dolemite Is My Name not only of 2019’s best movies but an afflatus tale, that every aspiring artist should see.