Eddie Murphy has been trying to bring the life of Rudy Ray Moore to the screen for 15 years, and now he finally has done it. After seeing Murphy roar back to the kind of success that made him a movie superstar, you easily can see why he wanted to do this story of a pioneering stand-up comic/rapper who finally found his show business success by creating an alter ego guaranteed to get him noticed.
You might not know Rudy Ray Moore, but that will change after this loving, outrageously funny but thoroughly three-dimensional look at his life and times. Moore was a struggling comic who wanted to hit the big time but just couldn’t break through until he developed a unique character called Dolemite — a rapping, wildly dressed, pimp-like character who carried a cane and had one of the dirtiest acts around and on records that couldn’t get played on the radio. But one day he took it further and incredibly became a big-screen star of the ’70s. He was one of the first blaxploitation stars, who suddenly became an obscene, kung fu-fighting action star in a movie called Dolemite, the precursor 1975 film that led to numerous sequels. Shaft had nothing on this guy, a comic and rap pioneer who went to the filthiest places possible and became a legend in the process, particularly to young black comic admirers who idolized his act on stage and screen.
So this is his story, how he came to be a movie star and a movie-within-a -movie that hilariously details how Moore got it made using his own financing wizardry and really proving the only person doing the exploiting here was himself. As he exploits this alter ego, we see how Moore employs a screenwriter (a terrific Keegan-Michael Key) who’s not used to doing this sort of writing to create the movie incarnation of Dolemite. And then there is the making of the film itself with D’urville Martin (Wesley Snipes at his loopiest), a wacko director who creates chaos during the filming at the Dunbar Hotel, where it all goes nuts. In the end, however, the film becomes a runaway hit and Moore finally has the success he was looking for. It just took a little identity switch and the magic was there.
From the streets of L.A. to the famed Chitlin’ Circuit, Murphy embodies this role with all he’s got, the best film opportunity he has had since his Oscar-nominated turn in 2006’s Dreamgirls. Murphy gives the role and Moore himself — who was involved in the early days of developing this film before his death in 2008 — the respect he deserves. Although this is uniquely comic, it also is touching and dramatic in parts, which is a hallmark of other offbeat biopics written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karasewski, who penned this script. The pair, veterans of such films as Ed Wood, The Man in the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt, along with the Emmy-winning limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson, know how to take characters on the fringe and turn them into fully realized human beings with a dream. In fact Murphy was such a fan of Ed Wood that he knew they would be the right choice, and they are. So is director Craig Brewer, whose Hustle & Flow was an instant classic and balances the comedy and tonal shifts here perfectly. The technical credits are aces, including Ruth E. Carter’s sensational costume design.
The entire cast is excellent, but let me give a special shout-out to Da’Vine Joy Randolph, a scene stealer as a backup singer-turned-foil for Dolemite. Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Chris Rock and many others turn up as well and give the film a rich flavor. Ultimately, though, it belongs to Eddie Murphy with another role of a lifetime. And to Rudy Ray Moore, of course.
Producers are Murphy, John Fox and John Davis. Netflix opens the film in limited release this Friday before it starts streaming later this month. Check out my video review at the link above with scenes from the film.
Do you plan to see Dolemite Is My Name? Let us know what you think.
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