To be successful, a film not only needs to challenge intellect; it must challenge conventional wisdom, the thought that film must be a certain shape. In the 1970’s film convention was none-too-subtly challenged with the emergence of Blacksploitation films, starting with 1971’s “Shaft,” “Coffy,” and “Cleopatra Jones” were marketed toward urban African-American audiences, but reached a broader appeal, with their funky or jazzy soundtracks.
Rudy Ray Moore and his film “Dolemite” is an iconic member of that film movement. Netflix’s “Dolemite is My Name” from director Craig Brewer is the game.
As the advertising for “Dolemite is My Name” suggests, Eddie Murphy is Rudy Ray Moore, and that is indeed just the start to a magnificently assembled story from Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Starting from Moore’s earliest days as a record store jockey wanting to break in to stand-comedy in Los Angeles.
To his credit, he is undeterred by the relentless rejections from studio executives and night club managers – no one thinks he’s ready for primetime. Even his aunt agrees, suggesting that he’s been a singer and a shake dancer. What more can he do?
Moore’s ambition wasn’t enough initially for executives, something of a double entendre for his own career wouldn’t be put down, taking to the underground to get his comedy and variety act heard, and once he was, the labels picked him up.
The story is as much as Moore as it is about Eddie Murphy, who made his own name on Saturday Night Live before breaking into films with Walter Hill’s “48 HRS.” Murphy’s comedic and acting sensibilities are in full force. Brewer doesn’t restrain Murphy and we’re all the better for it.
Moore discovers a new character in himself through an inspirational conversation with an actor living on the street and thus, Dolemite was born.
Brewer surrounds Murphy with a cast that complements his style. Keegan-Michael Key plays Jerry Jones, Moore’s “square” screenwriting partner. The scene where they talk about “writing what you know,” is organic and fluid as Key and Murphy play off of each other’s energy, rounding out Dolemite’s story, leading to the idea the character could be seen by as many people as possible.
Other luminaries support Murphy including Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Tip Harris, Chris Rock, Ron Cephas Jones, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Snoop Dogg. They are all amazing in their parts, but Wesley Snipes as D’Urville Martin who doubled as the “Dolemite” villain Willie Green and as the film’s director, true to life.
Murphy and Snipes on the screen together is comedic gold and it was pure joy to see them act together as they would constantly bicker over why anything about “Dolemite” made sense, where Martin was trying to be a star.
It turns out that “Dolemite is My Name” was just the right vehicle to resuscitate many careers, reminding us of Rudy Ray Moore’s contribution to film history and of Eddie Murphy’s greatness.
- Dolemite is My Name