‘Dolemite Is My Name’
Directed by Craig Brewer
Starring Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Tituss Burgess, Wesley Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
You don’t have to know a thing about Rudy Ray Moore, the subject of the rollicking biopic “Dolemite Is My Name,” to respond to the sheer blast of unfettered joy that emanates from the movie.
The picture, opening in theaters Oct. 4 before streaming on Netflix beginning Oct. 25, frames the story of the ’70s entertainer known as Dolemite, the flashy pimp alter ego Moore created on comedy records and in a series of movies, as a testament to the triumph of the black outsider in an unfriendly entertainment business.
The movie is a long-standing passion project for Eddie Murphy, who stars as Moore, and in his hands and those of director Craig Brewer, and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the film offers an inspirational depiction of the power of positive thinking and the gift of self-confidence.
Murphy is in vintage form as the protagonist and the movie would be worth seeing for that fact alone. He does a predictably first-rate job of mimicking Moore’s distinctive comic style of grandiose, rhyming bragging, which served as something of an archetype for rap music.
But he really shines in the scenes that require a deeper level of acting, where he plays off the discrepancies between Moore’s flashy onstage persona and his real self. It is a reminder of how much Murphy has to offer and what an increasingly rare treat it is to experience him at his best.
The quality of Rudy Ray Moore’s gonzo output might be questioned. One of the great running jokes in the movie, which follows him from anonymity as a record store employee, through success on the black comedy circuit and into production on his first film, is how little he and his collaborators know about how to make a movie or what should go in one.
The production scenes of “Dolemite,” directed on-screen by Wesley Snipes’ spectacularly disaffected D’Urville Martin, are both hilarious and touching. They’re informed by this movie’s keen understanding of these characters; when Moore feels uncomfortable about a sex scene, he decides to make it funny, and his idea of funny is having friend and colleague Ben Taylor (Craig Robinson) shaking the bed so intensely that the set starts to collapse.
Brewer approaches his direction with a light, comic touch. The “Hustle & Flow” director has always demonstrated an affinity for the gritty world of ’70s B-pictures, so this is familiar territory for him. But the movie is more than just a funky good time. Brewer lets the many great actors (the ensemble also includes everyone from Tituss Burgess to Keegan-Michael Key) and wonderfully precise beats of the screenplay land as they should and infuses this story with a great sense of purpose and importance.
Murphy’s Rudy Ray puts the work in; he is unbending in his belief that the world needs to hear what he has to say and totally committed to doing whatever it takes to get there. He sees an audience that’s underappreciated and ignored, and ready for what he’s offering. This relentlessness gives the movie its texture and its big dramatic payoff. This man devoted his life to reaching a neglected audience and giving them silly belly laughs. “Dolemite Is My Name” shows you why that mattered.