DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

by Alan Yudman

On my list of great disappointments of the past 30 years (and there are many) one is that Eddie Murphy has not worked more. Oh, he’s done stuff. Donkey in the Shrek movies. The Nutty Professor showed off his ability to create characters (better than Tyler Perry). Other middling comedies here and there. Dramas like Mr. Church, that no one remembers (at least I don’t). Murphy’s last role that seared into my brain was his Oscar nominated performance as James “Thunder” Early in DREAMGIRLS. That is a void in our lives because Murphy is so incredibly good and versatile. I was pleasantly reminded of how much I’ve missed Murphy while watching DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

This is the story about entertainer Rudy Ray Moore. A struggling comic who discovered success when he created the character Dolemite… a raunchy, rhyming, pimp-dressing spectacle. He’d swagger onto the stage and deliver jokes in a rhythmic patter that is obviously a forbear of rap. That launched a string of successful comedy albums, but Moore wanted something bigger. He saw a market for his brand of comedy in movies. So, he decided to make a one that would sort of fall in the “blaxploitaion” genre, but really was its own thing.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is Moore’s story of success… how he created the character, then through sheer force of will got a movie made. Or maybe it was stubbornness. Genius has a tendency toward blind faith. He borrows against future record royalties. It’s an arrangement that would leave him beholden to his record company for eternity. He begged, borrowed, schemed and lied to get his movie made and it was more successful than anyone could have imagined.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewki is good. The Craig Brewer’s direction is solid because it’s barely noticeable. He knows Murphy is the star and sets up a few “hero” shots that show off his star’s incredible presence.

This would have been a decent movie without Eddie Murphy. With him, it’s great. Murphy is simply a fabulous actor. The projects he chooses may not show that often enough, but when he has material equal to his gift he is a big bright shining star. His timing is impeccable (not surprising considering he is a fabulous comedian). He knows when he needs to “put his weight behind it” (an instruction he gives a drummer and several others in the movie). He is empathetic. You cannot help but root for the man he has brought to life. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I absolutely loved this performance.

Everyone fills their supporting roles well. Wesley Snipes turn as the exasperated actor/director D’Urville Martin is nothing but fun. One quibble is with Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the screenwriter Rudy employs to write the film. I got the distinct impression he was acting. That is not usual for Key. While FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE was meh, he was very good in it. So this was a little disappointing.

Biopics can be a mess. Racing from event to event, feeling more like a chronicle than an actual story. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME does not suffer from that problem at all. This is a compelling story about a unique character. It doesn’t dwell on unnecessary back story. You get just enough of Rudy’s history to get what he’s about. It’s great to see Eddie Murphy in a great, meaty role. I hope we see more of him in films like this. It’s certainly is an early holiday present.

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