DOLEMITE IS MY NAME! (2019)

Review by LL Soares

I’m a big fan of the original Rudy Ray Moore classic DOLEMITE (1975), one of the wildest films of the “Blaxploitation” era, so when I heard that Eddie Murphy was going to play Moore in a biopic, I was pretty excited. Murphy hasn’t done anything even slightly edgy in a long time (too many Klumps, and like-minded projects, on his resume), and this promised to be something that got back to his roots as a stand-up comic. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME!, Murphy’s movie currently streaming on Netflix, is a lot slicker than anything Moore ever made, but it captures the anarchy that must have been on the original film’s set.

Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy) obviously wanted to be famous. He starts out making music and selling records out of his trunk and at the record store where he works (where Snoop Dogg is the DJ!). When no one’s interested, he rethinks his strategy. An old panhandler comes into the store and starts telling a long, rhyming story, that captures Moore’s attention. I can use this, he thinks. He pays a bunch of winos to tell him their stories, polishes it all up, and uses it to create a stand-up comedy routine. He’s already got a stage, acting as the emcee at a nightclub, introducing bands. His between-the-acts jokes end with a thud up till now, but Moore goes all out with his new persona. He dresses differently and creates the character of Dolemite, using the crazy, profane, rhyming stories as his act. The audience loves it, and he’s suddenly more popular than the bands he introduces! (This rhyming style of storytelling, by the way, is called toasting, and Moore’s pioneering work in popularizing it got him acknowledged as a grandfather of rap).

Moore goes on the road and his act is a big hit among African-American audiences on the so-called “Chitlin Circuit,” of predominantly black communities. Impressed one day when he sees a woman knocking out her would-be abuser, Moore mentors her to become a similar stand-up performer called Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), and she becomes his opening act, touring with him across the country.

The next step on becoming famous involves putting his comedy on “party records,” to be played at parties, but no one will release them, fearing obscenity lawsuits, so he puts them out himself, mostly in paper bags under the counter at record stores. They become so big, that a studio eventually has to sign him.

But stand-up comedy, touring and on record, isn’t enough. Rudy sees some of the early blaxploitation films of the 70s (movies popular at the time like SHAFT, 1971, SUPER FLY, 1972, and BLACK CAESAR, 1973, to name a few) and decides that’s his next move. To be the star of an actual movie! No one will make his movie, so he makes it himself. But he has no idea how to make a movie. So he approaches actor D’Uberville Martin (a hilarious Wesley Snipes), who he sees in a club one day (Martin had roles in many blaxploitation films of the time). He convinces Martin to act in his movie by also making him the director. Martin also gets them a real film crew – made up of university students trying to get their break. Rudy also gets a local theater playwright named Jerry (Keegan-Michael Key) to write the script.

They use an old, but once-fancy, abandoned hotel as a studio, and steal electricity from nearby buildings. On film, Rudy becomes an action star in the mold of John Shaft, except Rudy is overweight and knows nothing about karate (but he fakes it anyway). It doesn’t matter. His boastful, swaggering character Dolemite is now an action star!

The film has a lot of roadblocks, but Rudy gets through them all and gets a complete motion picture made! But no one will release/distribute it! More frustration follows.

So what does he do? He does it himself, of course! He finds out he can rent a movie theater by paying them a certain amount upfront, and then keeping all the ticket sales. He does this, and goes on radio stations and promotes himself (he even gets one of those trucks with a speaker to drive around and promote the movie showing). This is the time when Midnight Movies were big, and Moore already has a built-in audience from his comedy career. Tons of people show up to the movie, and it’s a big hit. Big enough so that studios take notice, and one indie/B movie studio signs him to a contract. That movie, DOLEMITE, even spawns a bunch of sequels!

The story of Rudy Ray Moore is the story of someone who wanted to be famous and did everything he had to do to get there. MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! might remind you of Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, in that it’s about someone outside the Hollywood system who had a vision, and saw it to through to the end. The screenplay is even by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote ED WOOD! They also wrote the biopics THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) and the Andy Kaufman movie MAN ON THE MOON (1999), both directed by Milos Forman.

Rudy Ray Moore is a larger-than-life character, and his story provides a terrific role for Eddie Murphy, who is great here as Moore. Always upbeat, no matter what is thrown at him, Murphy’s Rudy is a man who refuses to take no for an answer, and who excels in making his own breaks, when everyone else tells him he can’t do it. The fact that his stand-up comedy and films were raucous and dirty just makes this biopic all the more entertaining.

If you’re a fan of Rudy Ray Moore, check this out to see his life portrayed in a big Hollywood film. If you’re an Eddie Murphy fan, see it because it’s his best movie role in decades!

And if you enjoy this, you really should check out the actual films of Rudy Ray Moore, especially his cult classic DOLEMITE and its first sequel, THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976). They may not be as slick, with as great production values, as Murphy’s film, but they are low-budget dynamos of comedy, kung-fu, and chaos!

MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! is directed by Craig Brewer who also made the films HUSTLE AND FLOW (2005), BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2006), as well as being a co-executive producer and directing several episodes of the TV series EMPIRE. He directs MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! as a pretty straightforward biopic, and doesn’t take any real risks with the formula, but it’s such an entertaining story, you won’t mind.

I give MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! a rating of 3 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives DOLEMITE IS MY NAME! ~  3 1/2 KNIVES

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