Funny is funny. People often go to Los Angeles to chase their dreams and become stars. The sad truth is, only few get what they’re after, relegated to a lifetime of serving, office administration, or in the case of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), an assistant manager at a record store where he can’t even get his self-made R&B records played by the in-house DJ. Moore is talented, capable of crooning, dancing, and making people laugh, though the cat is on his last life as it pertains to making it big. Opportunities in showbiz rarely happen for those in their 40’s.
A lightning bulb goes off in the head of Moore after kicking out the local hobo from the store yet again. See, that local hobo is quite the storyteller, and his tall tales consisted of a street legend known as “Dolemite,” one of the smoothest, baddest, and legitimate guys around. These stories are funny, and all they need is fine tuning. And tuning Moore does, adapting these stories and creating a full-on character out of them. He steals the show one day as the opening emcee, and Dolemite is officially born, bringing him the attention he always wanted as a nationwide comedian delivering his stories on vinyl. Coming from the Arkansas ghetto, Moore will always be hungry for more. What’s bigger than getting on the Billboard Top 200? Making a movie on the silver screen. If done right, he can not only be a star, but a potential legend.
Hearing the word “biopic” especially around this time in the moviegoing year can induce a feeling of indifference. The biopic genre isn’t bad, it’s just vanilla more times than goat cheese cherry (shout out to Jeni’s Ice Cream). Lame ice cream similes aside, Dolemite Is My Name combines elements of the unconventional and conventional to create a delightful blend of its own soft-serve biopic flavor that’ll be great on the big screen or a home screen.
Roughly 15 years ago, writer/director Craig Brewer had a sophomore effort known as Hustle & Flow that made noise at Sundance and the Academy Awards, and then following those up with generally solid—if unspectacular—features in Black Snake Moan and Footloose. For his first big feature since 2011, there’s little evidence of rust; he directs Dolemite Is My Name with the necessary boldness one would expect a movie showcasing such a brash, atypical subject to have. There’s never a doubt that the sets, costumes, and what’s on the screen doesn’t jive with its 1970’s decade.
Better yet, Dolemite Is My Name doesn’t come off as “cheap” or a caricature-fueled mockery of its subject. He alongside composer Scott Bomar and cinematographer Eric Steelberg recreate some of the comedian’s most infamous moments on cinema. Their movie can still be enjoyed without previous exposure to Moore’s productions, however; the film’s second half particularly will work substantially better if viewers have taken the time to watch, even if only in the background (at least the first movie).
Regardless of the familiarity or not, Dolemite Is My Name will likely connect with most on the strength of its humor, spearheaded by a revitalized Murphy. It’s almost as if—or maybe it simply is—he’s using the R-rated legend as a conduit for his own phoenix-esque rebirth (the surely R-rated Coming 2 America is hitting theaters next year). To call it nonstop “laugh out loud” hilarious would be kind of misleading, but he gets better as “DIMN” goes on and the film itself is almost always amusing. But what stands as most surprising is how he, and the script in general, manage to showcase the generosity of Moore and the grit needed to never settle when everyone else told him settling was the best option. Could there have been some additional focus on the rock bottom moments Moore surely had? Absolutely. With that said, there’s nothing wrong with a crowd-pleasing American Dream story here and there, and viewers will be hard-pressed to not be warmed in the heart as Murphy goes out ending the movie with what he and the man he’s playing do best.
Rightfully, this is Murphy’s vehicle, but the collection of cast mates who support his marvelous lead turn aren’t to be discarded. Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Moore’s longtime right hand woman Lady Reed gets her own moving personal story of acceptance tucked inside of his. Comedy stalwarts Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, and Craig Robinson all seem energized being around the presence of Murphy. Small parts from rappers T.I. and Snoop Dogg manage to make imprints. And finally (in a character that probably is a wee bit embellished), Wesley Snipes is absolutely ridiculous as the bourgeois writer/director D’Urville Martin with an inflated ego due to his barely there part in Rosemary’s Baby playing the elevator boy. That’s not counting brief appearances from Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chris Rock. Dolemite Is My Name is not only going to do a lot for Murphy, but possibly others. Above all, everyone is clearly having a ton of fun with one another.
Behind a vibrant Murphy and a very game impressive cast along with a feel-good inspirational script, Dolemite Is My Name serves as a good tribute to an underrated comedian and influential man in more respects than anticipated. The successful pairing of Murphy and Brewer also gives a modicum of hope that seeing Prince Akeem in a sequel 20-plus years after its release could be a good or even great thing.
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