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Review: Dolemite is My Name (2019)

Dolemite is My Name (2019)

Directed by: Craig Brewer

Premise: Based on the life of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy). In the mid-1970s, Moore works as an entertainer in the Los Angeles club scene. Moore creates the character Dolemite and produces a movie with himself as the star.

What Works: Dolemite is My Name is a satisfying show business tale. The filmmakers approach this material as a going-into-business story, which in many respects it is, and Dolemite is My Name has the same appeals of Horatio Alger success stories. The first portion of the film dramatizes Rudy Ray Moore discovering his comedic voice. As depicted here, Moore struggled to establish himself as an entertainer until he created the character Dolemite, an outrageous and foul-mouthed pimp with a gift for rhyme. The character caught on with live audiences, leading Moore to record a series of comedy albums and later produce the film Dolemite. The bulk of Dolemite is My Name is about Moore’s struggle to make the 1975 film and this movie captures the verve, showmanship, and audacity that characterized Moore’s work and was central to his appeal. The moviemakers invest us in Moore’s venture. This was a personal project for him and he assumed a great deal of financial risk while leading a mostly unprofessional and inexperienced cast and crew. Like a lot of successful making-of dramas, Dolemite is My Name strings together behind-the-scenes anecdotes into a story and finds laughs in the filmmakers’ naiveté but also admires their work ethic and ingenuity. Dolemite was made by people who didn’t know what they were doing (and it shows in the 1975 film) but that innocence gave the picture an authenticity and charm that made Dolemite a hit. Those qualities come through in Dolemite is My Name. This story has a definite underdog appeal and the audience is made to want to see Moore succeed. This film features several impressive performances, chief among them Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore. It’s nice to see Murphy back in an adult comedy again after the actor’s many decades in family-oriented pictures and Dolemite is My Name features Murphy’s best performance since Dreamgirls. Also impressive is Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, a performer who Moore discovered and puts in his projects, and Wesley Snipes as D’Urville Martin, the actor-turned-director who helmed Dolemite.

What Doesn’t: Dolemite is My Name polishes the rougher edges off of Rudy Ray Moore and his signature character. The movie Dolemite was important to its time but it wasn’t very good; Dolemite is My Name makes that film look much better than it was. Both the 1975 film and Moore’s act were quite misogynistic and reinforced negative stereotypes of African Americans. Admittedly, Moore was doing that with his tongue in his cheek. Dolemite was funny because he was an outrageous comic exaggeration. But Dolemite is My Name glosses over much of that. The production design of this film also tends to look artificial. The costumes and sets appear as props rather than the authentic clothes and spaces in which the characters live.

DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.  

Bottom Line: Dolemite is My Name is a fun tribute to the work and legacy of Rudy Ray Moore. The movie may not be very challenging and it ignores the troublesome parts of Moore’s work but it is a lot of fun and features a great performance by Eddie Murphy.

Episode: #776 (November 17, 2019)