Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: October 4th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Craig Brewer Actors: Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Mike Epps, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph

 


 

R

udy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) struggles to get his songs on the air, pitching his published hits routinely to a disc jockey (Snoop Dogg) – at the record store at which Rudy serves as the assistant manager. But he can’t seem to catch his big break; no one believes in his brand of entertainment. “Vaudeville is dead. I don’t need an all-in-one,” insists the owner of the Californian Club, where Rudy also attempts to land a bigger gig, rather than merely emceeing for more broad-spectrum acts.

When Ricco, a bum, saunters into the record shop, reciting raps about Dolemite, an urban legend hero known for mopping up the floors with his enemies, Moore has an epiphany. Collecting together stanzas and jokes about Dolemite’s Olympian – yet frequently outrageous and vulgar – exploits, the experienced performer dons a fresh alter ego. As Dolemite, complete with gaudy, pimplike clothing, a puffy wig, and a raffish cane, Rudy begins drawing considerable crowds, who double over at the expletive-laden, hypersexual feats he raps about. It’s a new character based on old material, but it proves almost instantly successful. And with a bit of funding from his aunt, he’s soon turning a profit by selling comedy albums out of the trunk of his car.

“It’s filthy!” The film brandishes a “The People vs. Larry Flynt” vibe, as Moore’s under-the-table peddling of his over-the-top wares capitalizes on the desire for scabrous content. Family record stores be damned; his product may not be traditionally sellable or promotable, but its illicit aura prompts a meteoric rise to fame. Traveling across the country to perform live shows isn’t enough for this enterprising jack-of-all-trades, however; motivated by a Christmas showing of comedy “The Front Page,” which features no nudity, no kung fu, no bad language, and nothing particularly funny for his continual embracing of coarse humor, Rudy decides to make a “Dolemite” feature film, not only to amuse likeminded moviegoers, but also to aid his transformation into a countrywide star. “I’m gonna bet on myself.”

“Your appeal is limited.” Moore is smart, ambitious, economical, and improvisational, managing to become famous with nothing but his confidence. Despite his talents, particularly with music, he’s portrayed as a man who must do everything for himself; no one hands him fame. He’s likable, buoyant, and positive; he’s a striking role model for the downtrodden, even though he thrives on bawdiness. He found an underserved audience and created something specifically for them (fueled by action, explosions, martial arts, sex, bullets, and insults), unconcerned with critics, naysayers, or the prim and proper. Unfortunately, the film itself tends to play it too safe; it’s anecdotally constructed, with lots of small laughs and even smaller adversity, generating an airy comedy that never musters a deeper sense of accomplishment, or a significant impact on his community, or even a miraculous rescue from hopelessness. There’s almost no drama on the road to his celebrity status.

Similarly, there’s no flair in the filmmaking itself; the progression of the plot is formulaic and conventional, bounding along with predictable music and montages. It may be based on real people, but creative exaggerations appear tragically underused. Even when shooting for the “Dolemite” motion picture commences, the egos, the unprofessionalism, the guerrilla tactics, and the unmanageable crew aren’t larger-than-life; everything is grounded in an evenness that stifles the wackiness that should be inherent in this kind of biography. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant companion piece to such movies about movies like “The Disaster Artist,” “Tropic Thunder,” “Living in Oblivion,” and “Get Shorty,” chronicling the many hilarious ways in which artistic failure isn’t exactly unprofitable. And Eddie Murphy is in top form, giving a superb, idiosyncratic turn, joined by an impressive cast of other, moderately caricatured personas, including Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Tituss Burgess, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10