“How’d my life get so small?” wonders a sullen Rudy Ray Moore at the beginning of Dolemite Is My Name. Rudy Ray went to Hollywood as a young man but found no success despite trying anything and everything to make it in show business.
In Dolemite Is My Name, we meet our hero at a crossroads in his life. It’s now or never for Rudy when he has a revelation and starts creating a new comedy act from the words he hears on the streets. We see him rise from unsuccessful club performer to the making of his first album to comedy sensation, and finally to movie stardom with the making and release of his first movie, Dolemite.
For those unfamiliar with his work, in addition to Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore produced, created, and starred in the classics Disco Godfather, Petey Wheatstraw, and The Human Tornado at the height of the blaxploitation movement in the 1970s. Along with Pam Grier and Richard Roundtree, Moore became one of the icons of the movement known for his outlandish films and catch phrases like “Bitch, are you for real?” and “Put your weight on it.”
Eddie Murphy shines as Moore. Though he does not much resemble Rudy Ray Moore, he captures his essence, and his portrayal is astounding. His charisma and screen presence make you wish you were seeing the film in a theater. He embodies the essential broad bombast of Moore’s comedic style and shows his vulnerability as an aging dreamer with one last shot at glory.
Dolemite Is My Name is a return to form for Murphy. For someone old enough to remember his comedy specials (Delirious, RAW), it was exhilarating to hear the man who once filled stadiums with his colorful stories laced with profanity rise up, stand on a stage as Moore, and drop f-bombs like nobody’s business. Once again we’re reminded why Murphy is a star in a league of his own and always will be.
The stellar ensemble cast includes Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (On Becoming a God in Central Florida), Titus Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Mike Epps (The Last Black Man in San Francisco), and Craig Robinson (The Office). Wesley Snipes is transformative as D’Urville Martin, the director of Dolemite. With his impeccable comedic timing, we see him stretch in a way he hasn’t for some time, and it’s delightful. Keegan-Michael Key is the straight man of the group as Jerry Jones, the writer of Dolemite and Moore’s collaborator, getting laughs with every surprised look and glare. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the heart of the film, and her scenes with Murphy give us some of its more touching moments. Engaging performances in bit parts by Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock make this movie a great watch.
The script comes from the minds of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who also brought us such films as The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Big Eyes, and Ed Wood. Dolemite Is My Name has all the heart and laughs of Ed Wood with the soul of Earth Wind and Fire. Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) gives us his vision of a gritty Los Angeles in the 70s blaxploitation era, but he does it with a kind of whimsy.
Dolemite Is My Name is the tale of a man who takes his destiny into his own hands on the verge of forty. It’s a joyful celebration of Rudy Ray Moore and serves as a reminder that it’s never too late to turn your life around. If you want to come away laughing and feeling hopeful, make this your next Netflix movie night.