There are few comedic voices in entertainment, quite as prominent or long-revered as Eddie Murphy’s. Different generations have their own recollection of being introduced to the comedian, whether they were exposed to him through his stand-up on Saturday Night Live, or through enjoying any of his beloved films from Trading Places (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Coming to America (1988) or even his more family-friendly fare, like his remake of The Nutty Professor (1996).
However, most fans will agree that the last couple of decades haven’t been too kind on the comedy legend. Many of us believed that his role in the powerful, Dreamgirls (2006) would bring about a comeback for Murphy, putting the horror of Pluto Nash (2002) behind us. Unfortunately, we wound up with the resounding wet-fart, Norbit (2007) a film which showered Murphy with Razzies, and so, fans were once again left waiting for a return to form.
Fast-forward to 2019, after a number of sparse, hit-or-miss appearances over the 2010s, we have Dolemite Is My Name, Eddie Murphy’s love letter to blaxploitation icon Rudy May Moore, the Godfather of Rap, who birthed the Dolemite persona to the world. This is a film that celebrates a cult hustler icon in the vein of Ed Wood (1994) or The Disaster Artist (2017), providing insight into Rudy Ray Moore’s life, while exploring the behind-the-scenes antics that went into creating the original Dolemite (1975).
As an exploration of ego and the American dream, Dolemite Is My Name is a fascinating deconstruction of a man, longing for acceptance and purpose, while managing a heart-warming message of hope for the dreamers of the world.
The abundance of talent involved here, imbuing their love for Rudy Ray Moore, is astounding.
Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski create a reverence for Moore, that isn’t outright idolisation, but is fair and respectful to a larger than life persona. Director Craig Brewer (who hadn’t directed a film since the Footloose (2011) remake), wholeheartedly embraces the lunacy of the 70s blaxploitation craze, leading to a biopic that aims to entertain more than it cares for historical accuracy, much in the vein of Rocketman (2019).
Not to mention, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, follows up her outstanding work on Black Panther (2018) here, with a vast array of colourful outfits that make the era pop with passion.
Dolemite Is My Name, is an effortlessly cool, tour de force with a heart. Rudy Ray Moore is man, running from the shadow of his father, all with a smile on his face, and an entrancing jazz soundtrack to guide him.
Every act from Moore in the film, aims to highlight the positive influence he had on the people around him, despite the world constantly rejecting his attempts at stardom, (often in circumstances out of his control). From being kicked out of a radio booth as a struggling singer (by Snoop Dogg no less), bombing as a stand-up comedian, and throwing all of his finances into the original Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore is the underdog we all endear to support, because he tackles each knockback with a desire to be better.
The people around him are constantly rewarded for his influence, despite not always agreeing with his unique approach. That, and Eddie Murphy’s warm embrace of the icon, make Rudy Ray Moore a touchstone of positivity.
It really can’t be understated; how incredibly entertaining Eddie Murphy is in the film. Not only are the classic Eddie Murphy one-liners and mannerisms here, sure to be repeated and re-enacted, but there’s a sincerity and maturity to Murphy’s performance that helps you sympathize with the harshness of Rudy Ray Moore’s upbringing, and ultimately love the influence of Rudy Ray Moore, as much as Eddie Murphy clearly idolizes the man.
That being said, Eddie Murphy’s wonderful turn as Moore, isn’t the only outstanding performance in the film. Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson and Adelaide’s own Kodi Smith-McPhee all make outstanding contributions, while Chris Rock pops up for a fun cameo.
However, the praise has to go to a completely in his element, Wesley Snipes as the outrageous D’Urville Martin and the wonderful Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed.
The film’s best scenes often fall down to Rudy Ray Moore’s interactions with either character.
Watching D’Urville Martin attempting to get through the Dolemite shoot, will have you in fits of laughter. The choices that Snipes makes, in accentuating Martin’s behaviour is absolutely hysterical, to the point where he very nearly steals the movie from Eddie Murphy.
Lady Reed on the other hand, is the heart of the film, reminding us why the efforts of icons like Rudy Ray Moore can be so important. The final interactions between Moore and Reed bring an emotional and satisfying closure, that stand as a testament to the talent involved.
There are no gut-wrenching scenes to weigh the film down, but only moments that bring about tears of pure joy and pride that few films genuinely earn without being too sappy.
Dolemite Is My Name leaves you with an infectious energy of love and positivity, long after the credits have rolled.
Sure, the film could’ve explored the history of Rudy Ray Moore in more detail, but in exploring a man who developed different personas to reach the world, unveiling all details about the harshness of Rudy Ray Moore’s history would’ve felt wrong and disrespectful. Instead, we witness a man who finds his purpose in becoming and living the Dolemite character, and in turn inspired others to find their own true selves.
Dolemite Is My Name, is a film that deserves to be embraced by any and all, looking to be entertained and inspired. This is Eddie Murphy, back at his absolute A-game, the best he’s been in decades, and I genuinely hope he is recognised for his work, come awards season.
For myself, this was like sitting down to watch Coming to America (1988) again for the first time. Unsure watch to expect beforehand, positively changed by the end of it, which is oddly fitting, as Craig Brewer and Eddie Murphy will be reteaming for Coming 2 America (2020).
This is the return to form for Eddie Murphy, that many of us have now waited decades for, and I can only hope and wonder what the future holds for the comedy icon.
Dolemite Is My Name is now available to stream on Netflix.
Director: Craig Brewer
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson
Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski