TIFF 2019 Review: Eddie Murphy is on fire in funkadelic 'Dolemite is My Name'
Courtesy of Netflix
As some knew, Rudy Ray Moore was a legendary figure when it came to comedy and producing cult films. I hadn’t known much about the icon prior to seeing his story in the excellent “Dolemite is My Name.” What I found out was that he was more than a blaxploitation hero that ushered in a new wave of grungy B-movies, he was a streetwise hustler who paved his own success.
So who could play him other than Eddie Murphy? The fast talking comedian perfectly embodies the expletive spewing idol and it represents a return to top form for the actor, who is on the verge of making a career comeback between this, his upcoming Netflix special, and the forthcoming “Coming to America 2.”
Though fairly traditional by biopic standards, Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow) has put together his film with tons of affection and energy for the era. Hell, if Rudy Ray Moore were still here today you bet your “Motha F*ckin ass” he’d be hyped to see his legacy honored with a major motion picture.
Granted, most people will probably see “Dolemite is My Name” on Netflix when it lands there next month, which is a shame when you consider how big the laughs are in a crowded theater. I screened the film in a gigantic venue with at least two thousand people whose sides were splitting because Murphy and this insane cast eat up the screen. A clear indication that some films are best enjoyed in the theatrical setting, not at home on a couch.
Nevertheless, the film spans many career trajectories for the star, and you can infer from the opening sequence that Murphy is indeed going to take us on a wild ride. Dropping more than a handful of tasteful F bombs (“Dolemite is my name and f*ckin up motherf*ckas’ is my game!” he says with a smirk) than any of his stand up specials combined, this is Murphy’s bid for Oscar glory and I’d argue that it’s his to lose.
“Dolemite” opens during Moore’s struggling years where, by day, he’s an assistant manager at a record store, and by night throws on a jazzy suit to tell cheesy one-liners as a nightclub emcee. That is until a hobo wanderers into his store one fruitful morning spouting old rhymes and Rudy decides to take the jokes, give them a rewrite, and make them the heart and soul of his character: Dolemite.
Brewer allows the audience a behind the scenes glimpse into the creation of Dolemite, showing Rudy developing the style, voice, hair, walk, and even the clothes he’s going to wear as the loose comic. Like “Hustle & Flow,” Brewer isn’t afraid to show his audience the process of creative art being made and it’s not long before Dolemite starts churning out records at a steady pace, yet the industry doesn’t want to make them because of their graphic, often, vulgar nature.
But Rudy is a hustler, so he knows the game and begins illegally selling his records out of the trunk of his car to build word of mouth, and before you can say “Mothaf*cker,” Rudy becomes an overnight sensation. The steady rise of which occupies the first half of the film: the second begins with Rudy’s trip to the movies, where he becomes enraged at how the Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau classic “The Front Page” doesn’t feature any boobs, kung-fu, and just isn’t funny. So instead of giving into the system, he sets about making his own “Dolemite” movie.
In a lot of ways, Moore and Murphy share many similarities with their rise to fame, and the actor has gone on the record saying he’s spent decades trying to get this film made. You can tell how important it was for Murphy to get the story and framing right, and it comes through in his performance. The comedian is clearly having a joyous time putting together this character, representing the type of commitment that made his earlier films like “Beverly Hills Cop,” or even “Bowfinger” so intoxicating. He’s a reliable actor who’s lost his way in the last few years with “Imagine That” or “A Thousand Words,” but he’s also graduated into a reliable performer. Because even though “Dolemite is My Name” is first and foremost a comedy, Murphy showcase some serious dramatic chops too.
Brewer has also surrounded Murphy with a hellacious ensemble, ranging all the way down from Craig Robinson, Keegan-Micheal Key, Titus Burgess, Mike Epps, Kodi-Scott McPhee, and Snoop Dog. Yet the real scene stealer is Wesley Snipes, who also seems happy to grace the screen again playing the righteous, self entitled director D’Urville Martin - and since he’s spent much of his career either in prison or scowling in a bad action movies, it’s easy to forget that he’s actually a gifted comic performer.
As these bands of misfits set out to make their goofy movie, “Dolemite Is My Name” is a glowing endorsement of the American dream, and black creativity. There are probably other aspects about Moore’s life that were overlooked for the sake of runtime (that’s almost a given when tackling any biopic of this caliber). But when your film is this consistently entertaining and you’ve got Murphy chewing up scenery and dialogue the way he is here, it’s hard to think about the conventional aspects.
In other words, just soak up the funky mad verse of “Dolemite is My Name” and don’t be a fool.
Netflix will release Dolemite is My Name in limited theatrical release on October 4th before streaming on the service October 25th