Eddie Murphy has been unforgivably absent this decade on screen. Thankfully, Netflix’s latest hit, “Dolemite Is My Name”, makes up for all we missed, and then some.
“Dolemite Is My Name” is a comedic biopic on the life of real life comedy legend and rap pioneer Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy), who became a Blaxploitation cinematic phenomenon in the 70s and 80s as his alter ego, Dolemite. Moore’s story is crazy, hilarious, and inspiring, as he is repeatedly told “no” throughout his life by nightclub owners and music and film executives, only to prove them wrong by finding out how to succeed on his own.
Moore was the type of person that if a record label rejected him, he believed in himself so much that he would distribute his comedy records (based on his standup) himself on the streets, which sold incredibly well, and earned him a steady career with professional record labels who wanted in on his popularity. The same thing happened when he tries to break into film, which he sees as a way to spread his comedy everywhere at once. He’s turned down by even studios that produce Blaxploitation films, so he finances his own film (“Dolemite” ), betting on himself because nobody else would. Along the way, he recruits actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to act and direct, playwright Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to write the screenplay, his standup co-star Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) to accompany him, and some UCLA film students to work out the “technical stuff.”
Murphy proves to be a perfect choice for Moore, having a background in standup himself, but he also brings such an authentic, convincing energy to the role. If you didn’t know that the film was based on a true story, you wouldn’t know it was a biopic, mostly because of Murphy’s performance — which becomes particularly impressive when you consider many of the scenes in the film are faithfully recreated from “Dolemite” (1975). You don’t feel like you’re watching Murphy just do an impression of Moore/Dolemite; Eddie Murphy gets so immersed in his role that he IS Dolemite.
And the rest of the cast brings similar passion to match his energy. Key is almost unrecognizable in his role as Jones, whose longing to write culturally significant, powerful stories serves as a foil to Moore, who just wants kung-fu, explosions, action and women in his film. Martin starts out as a diva who needs to be put in his place by Moore, which is ironic considering Snipes’ real world drama behind the scenes on movie sets, but ends up loosening up and having fun. Reed serves as Moore’s number two, who he confides in and serves as a mentor to. And you can tell everyone is having a good time. This is a biopic about a famous comedian that is really funny in its own right.
Analyzing this as a standalone product, what the director decided to show and leave in is masterful. There is a particularly good scene towards the end where Moore/Dolemite shows up first to a premier of his film five people went to, then to one where it is sold out, and instead of seeing the film, he entertains those waiting in line and works the crowd much like he did in his standup. It really captures a persona of a man who loved people and who loved to entertain, which you really get the sense that that was the essence of who Moore was. Biopics are not always 100 percent historically accurate — they are often dramatized, they have to carefully pick and choose what to include and what to leave out from their subject’s lives, and they might even have scenes that never happened in real life at all — but you can hope to understand the spirit or feeling of what that person was, and why they were culturally significant, which is arguably more important than just knowing the cold facts of what they did.
“Dolemite” does that and more, not only managing to educate a generation of people on who Rudy Ray Moore was and what he did, but being mightily entertaining in of itself. I can’t recall the last time I enjoyed a film this much, and there isn’t much I would change about it. For what they were trying to do, this movie is as perfect as it can be. “Dolemite Is My Name,” to me, is like lightning in a bottle.
“Dolemite Is My Name” gets a 9.8/10