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On Netflix: DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)

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DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
(US - 2019)

Directed by Craig Brewer. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Cast: Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Snoop Dogg, Ron Cephas Jones, Barry Shabaka Henley, Tip "T.I." Harris, Luenell, Tasha Smith, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Rock, Aleksandar Filimonovic, Ivo Nandi, Michael Peter Bolus, Kazy Tauginas, Baker Chase Powell. (R, 118 mins)

Amidst all the NORBITs and PLUTO NASHes that came down the pike, along with all the forgettable comedies like HOLY MAN, MEET DAVE, and IMAGINE THAT that litter his IMDb page, we need to be reminded every few years of what an incredible talent Eddie Murphy has been for nearly 40 (!) years. We all remember the unstoppable force that took over a floundering SNL in 1980 and became a box-office giant for the rest of the decade with 48 HRS, TRADING PLACES, BEVERLY HILLS COP, and COMING TO AMERICA. He stumbled in the early '90s (BEVERLY HILLS COP III, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN) and came back with THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and BOWFINGER, then reinvented himself as a family comedy guy with DR. DOLITTLE and DADDY DAY CARE before finding a whole new generation of fans as the voice of Donkey in the SHREK movies. Then came some more bad movies before his performance as James "Thunder" Early in 2006's DREAMGIRLS earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. But the career resurgence didn't happen--leaving the Oscar ceremony in a huff after he lost to Alan Arkin in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE probably wasn't a good look--and his film appearances since have been sporadic. The Eddie Murphy of old made a welcome return in the underrated 2011 Ben Stiller ensemble comedy TOWER HEIST, but then he was offscreen (not counting 2012's A THOUSAND WORDS, which was gathering dust on the shelf since 2008) for another five years, resurfacing in Bruce Beresford's barely-released MR. CHURCH, which offered a top-notch dramatic performance by Murphy in an otherwise mediocre film.





Murphy does his best work since his '80s glory days in the Netflix Original  DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, a wildly entertaining biopic of singer, comedian, and foul-mouthed party album legend Rudy Ray Moore (1927-2008), who would go on to be the mastermind of the 1975 blaxploitation cult classic DOLEMITE (a major influence on BLACK DYNAMITE). The screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski follow their ED WOOD template with Moore presented as a persistent, can-do dreamer whose ambitions in the entertainment industry stretch far beyond the capacity of his ability, yet he nevertheless corrals a rag-tag crew of skeptical but loyal friends and associates who are won over by his infectious spirit and personality. Unsuccessfully selling himself as a "total entertainment experience,"  his music and comedy careers have stalled and he's depressed that it's 1970 and all he's got in his life is his job as an assistant manager at Dolphin's Record Store in L.A. Moore finally finds some inspiration in listening to some homeless guys tell ridiculous stories of a badass, rhyme-busting pimp named "Dolemite." He works their stories into his own act, assuming the role of Dolemite and testing the character at a local nightclub. It gets a raucous response, and he borrows $250 from his aunt (Luenell) to record a live, X-rated, Redd Foxx-esque comedy album in his living room and then selling copies out of the trunk of his car. The Dolemite character soon finds a cult following and Moore takes the act on the road, with a record company eventually picking up his album (the not-very-subtly titled Eat Out More Often), and having him record several more. Emboldened by his newfound fame, Moore decides to take Dolemite to the next level, envisioning a big-screen movie along the lines of SHAFT and BLACK CAESAR.





Of course, neither Moore nor his inner circle--Jimmy Lynch (Mike Epps), Ben (Craig Ferguson), Toney (Tituss Burgess), and protegee and opening act Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph)--have the faintest idea how to make a movie. Moore hires playwright and inner city theater director Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to write a script that's initially planned to be a hard-hitting look at life on the mean streets but soon takes a turn toward the ludicrous with Moore's insistence that "titties" and "kung fu" be added to the story (Jones manages to talk him out of including an exorcism, in a nod to Moore's later demonic possession spoof PETEY WHEATSTRAW). A chance encounter while scouting for leading ladies at strip club leads to Moore landing "big time" actor D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) as a co-star with the promise of letting him direct. Scenes of the filming of DOLEMITE allow Murphy to recreate some of the film's most memorable (and memorably incompetent) moments, with "director" Martin more or less presented as a screwdriver-swilling drunk who's only there to mumble "Action" and "Cut" while Moore essentially takes control of the production.


"Dolemite is my name and fuckin' up motherfuckers is my game!"
Rudy Ray Moore (1927-2008)


Alexander and Karaszewski take the time to get the movie industry details right (like DOLEMITE initially taking off by the practice of "four-walling"), while obviously taking some liberties with the Moore story and the timeline (for instance, Dolemite yelling "Put your weight on it!" is actually from a later Moore "classic," 1979's DISCO GODFATHER), and they never address his long-rumored homosexuality (Moore never came out of the closet, but those closest to him have said he was gay), though there are some subtle hints in some remarks made to his closest friend Toney as well his nervousness about shooting a sex scene for the movie (oddly, the film overtly insinuates it about Martin, as evidenced by Snipes' flamboyantly effeminate portrayal of the actor/director as a sassy, melodramatic drama queen). It's definitely sidestepping to a certain degree, whether by Murphy's choice or because Moore never publicly came out in his lifetime, but it doesn't detract from the sheer entertainment of the film or the joy of watching an inspired Murphy just let it rip. Moore not only influenced the pioneers of rap, but also the young Eddie Murphy, and while Murphy doesn't cave to affectation by trying too hard to sound like Moore or wearing a ton of makeup to look exactly like him, he brilliantly nails the persona and the feel of Rudy Ray Moore (Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace in THE INSIDER immediately comes to mind--Plummer looked and sounded nothing like Wallace, but yet he was Mike Wallace). Murphy turns in an Oscar-caliber performance, and he gets some terrific support from Snipes in his best role in years as the arrogant Martin, who derisively sneers at the entire project and never misses an opportunity to remind everyone that he's been in big movies and is friends with Fred Williamson, and Randolph, who gets an emotional scene ("I ain't never seen nobody that looks like me up on that big screen") near the end that seems to bring Murphy the actor to actual tears and should guarantee her some awards season recognition. Directed by Craig Brewer (HUSTLE & FLOW), who's reteaming with Murphy on the upcoming COMING TO AMERICA sequel COMING 2 AMERICA, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a triumphant comeback for both Murphy and Snipes and an affectionate tribute to Rudy Ray Moore.



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