Movie Review: Dolemite Is My Name

Fans of Eddie Murphy, which is probably everyone, are celebrating his return to cinema with the biopic about comedian/singer/actor/producer Rudy Ray Moore in the Netflix movie, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. Neither Rudy nor his stage persona Dolemite are familiar names to most white folk but to generations of African-Americans he was not just “the Godfather of Rap”, he was also the poster boy (man?) for perseverance, self-reinvention and opportunism. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME charts a five-year period in Rudy’s life from his time when he was a failed song recording artist to his reinvention as a profane rhymer to the production and release of his first movie, the now classic Blaxploitation film known simply as DOLEMITE, which came out in 1975.

Looking at photos and movies of Rudy Ray Moore, it’s hard to imagine anyone less likely to succeed in show business than him. Approaching middle age, “doughy” and looking stoned out of his gourd half the time while on the film set, Rudy was hardly star material but that didn’t seem to deter him from wanting to be famous. In DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, a movie producer tells Rudy that a film with him as the star would only be successful in a five square block area where people know him to which Rudy replies, “Yes, but every city in America has the same five square blocks.” Regardless of whether or not Rudy actually said this, his thinking was absolutely correct. Rudy clearly understood the Zeitgeist of the African-American community. He knew exactly what they wanted and nothing was going to stop him from giving it to them.

Murphy is an absolute delight to watch as Rudy, though if you watch the real DOLEMITE film you’ll see that his impersonation of Rudy is far from being close. Murphy’s Rudy is more of a caricature, incorporating some of the comedian’s famous personas like Buckwheat and Gumby, not that I’m complaining. The story, by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (ED WOOD; THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT; TV’s THE PEOPLE V. O. J. SIMPSON), takes the position that Rudy knowingly made DOLEMITE as a comedy film though I don’t believe that was his intent. I think he really thought that he could be a bona fide studly action star in the vein of Fred Williamson or Richard Roundtree. However, I believe, when he saw that audiences found humour in his film, he quickly grasped the opportunity and jumped onboard. Unlike Tommy Wiseau (THE ROOM), who truly saw himself as a serious actor, Rudy wasn’t too proud to say to himself – over and over again – that if one way isn’t working for you, you go find another way that does.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME features a fabulous ensemble cast that includes Keegan-Michael Key (THE DISASTER ARTIST; WHY HIM?; AFTERNOON DELIGHT; TV’s KEY & PEELE) as DOLEMITE screenwriter and actor Jerry Jones, Wesley Snipes (the BLADE trilogy) as DOLEMITE director and co-star D’Urville Martin, Kodi Smit-McPhee (DARK PHOENIX; SLOW WEST) as DOLEMITE cinematographer Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (whose father, by the way, was famous filmmaker Josef von Sternberg (THE BLUE ANGEL; SHANGHAI EXPRESS)), and Da’Vine Joy Randolph (OFFICE XMAS PARTY; TV’s EMPIRE) as Rudy’s protégée, Lady Reed/Queen Bee. After Rudy casts Lady Reed in his film, she notes that she’s grateful to Rudy for giving her the opportunity to be in the movie because audiences just don’t see plus-sized women on the big screen. Again, we don’t know if Lady Reed really said this but she is absolutely right too. If there is one thing that Rudy was, it was that he was loyal to his friends. Rap star Snoop Dog also appears in the film as a DJ at the record store where Rudy works. The rapper has said that if there wouldn’t have been a Rudy Ray Moore, there wouldn’t be a Snoop Dog. Murphy and others have also credited Rudy as being an influence on their careers.

As enjoyable as the film is, it’s the costumes by Oscar winner Ruth Carter (BLACK PANTHER) that are outstanding. Taking her inspiration from the original DOLEMITE film, these threads are fly! I’ll be surprised if Carter doesn’t nab an Oscar nomination for her work here.

If you haven’t seen DOLEMITE yet, I would suggest that you try to see it before you see DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. Like THE ROOM, it’s so bad that it’s good. As for DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, it’s currently available on Netflix in some markets though it hasn’t yet reached Hong Kong. If you can see it, definitely make some time for it. Eddie is back!

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, November 1st, 8:30 am HK time!

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