WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
The true story of "Blaxploitation" star, Rudy Ray Moore, an ambitious but unsuccessful entertainer, who tries on every hat in the business until he finally hits on a character, Dolemite, that resonates with his young, black, urban audience. Mixing jive-talkin' hobo tales with filthy comedy and a rhythmic way of talking that would ultimately be a major influence on the development of rap, Dolemite hits on something that speaks to the experience of hip, young black audiences in the early 1970s and he rides the wave of goodwill from sold-out stand up tours to hit crossover comedy records. With the movies seeming like the next logical step for him, he gambles all on a movie that will either make him a star or destroy everything he worked so hard to build.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
In a world besieged by a particularly pernicious pandemic, most of us are, no doubt, beyond grateful that streaming services like Netflix have made home-streaming releases a viable release model for even relatively major movie releases. As wonderful as these straight-to-streaming movies are when you can't leave your house for weeks at a time, though, they do still suffer from a few serious drawbacks. One of the biggest is that great films and TV shows can easily get lost in the weekly deluge of new content. So seems to be the case with Dolemite Is My Name, a ludicrously entertaining comic biopic that happens to be the best Eddie Murphy vehicle since Bowfinger way back in 1999.
The last time Murphy made a triumphant return to acclaimed cinema after years starring in increasingly tepid comedy films that seem to exist for no reason other than to provide a blueprint for way too many Martin Lawrence "comedies", he starred in Dreamgirls, a barely fictional biopic of Diana Ross and the Supremes (in all but name) that won over audiences and critics alike. In one of the worst career moves in history, though, he released Dreamgirls within a few weeks of what is often considered to be not just his worst film but one of the worst films of all time: Norbit. The sheer awfulness of Norbit is widely seen to be responsible for robbing Murphy of a well-deserved Oscar in 2007 and for bringing to an end a comeback that had barely even begun.
Fortunately, this time around, there isn't a Norbit in sight (indeed, Murphy's return was heralded instead by notable and well-loved appearances on Saturday Night Live and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) but because it was released to little fanfare on Netflix around the same time that The Irishman was hogging all the limelight, Dolemite Is My Name never received the attention it so rightly deserved. It was certainly far more deserving an attention-grabber than Scorsese's frankly stale and ponderous mob flick, with far wider appeal, to boot. But, alas, it came and went... to the far right side of one of Netflix's many categories that require more scrolling than it could possibly be worth to get to it.
Dolemite is My Name is just an utter joy from start to finish that, never mind Netflix, should have been a huge hit in cinemas late last year.
Ah, cinemas... remember those...
Sorry, back to the present, viewers finally have a chance to correct that mistake. And, believe me, it should be no effort at all. Dolemite is not a particularly deep film, and the biopic formula does occasionally threaten to overtake it, but it does what it does extremely well and brings a real sense of fun to a subject that absolutely demands it.
For a start, for a movie about the unlikely success of someone having no idea how to make a movie but making one anyway, Dolemite is an incredibly confidently put-together film by writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and director, Craig Brewer. But then, this shouldn't be all that surprising. Brewer, despite being a white dude from Virginia, has shown a real knack for capturing the feel of "urban culture" in films like Hustle and Flow and the TV series, Empire, so there's a real sense of authenticity to the film's portrayal of 1970's inner-city life. Even more importantly, it's written by the guys who wrote Ed Wood, Tim Burton's funny, big-hearted masterpiece that is about an enthusiastic, DIY filmmaker whose actual talents never matched his enthusiasm but who won a major cult following almost precisely because of that. Gee. I wonder how they got the job.
Here's the thing, though. However much the film is stylish, pacey, funny, warm, generous, and genuinely inspiring and however much the excellent supporting cast is made up of a veritable who's who of great black comedy-actors (including a comeback role of his own for Wesley Snipes), the film is entirely worth seeing for one reason and one reason alone. Eddie freakin' Murphy.
I know that there's a whole generation of film fans who don't get why Eddie Murphy is such a big deal, but for those of us who remember when he was one of the greatest comedic talents on the planet AND a charismatic box-office giant in the 1980s and 1990s, this film is everything. Yes, there was Dreamgirls and the (increasingly weak) Shrek films this century, but the former was a comedy-drama with Murphy in a supporting role, while the latter kind of reduced a killer adult-comedy legend into, well, an animated ass.
In bringing a personal hero who was clearly a big influence on his own career to life, Murphy has tapped into some of that Coming to America/ Beverly Hills Cop/48 Hours magic in a performance that isn't just his best work since Steve Martin's wonderful and underrated Bowfinger (what do you know, yet another comedy about DIY filmmaking!), it's the most energised he's been since even before that. The amount of sheer charisma, likeability and passion he brings to the role is matched with the sort of foul-mouthed, comedic power that only Murphy at his best could deliver. To watch Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore is to watch the years slip away to sometime in 1984 when a younger (but not too much younger-looking) Eddie Murphy conquered the world as Axel Foley.
For those of us of a certain age, there can be no higher recommendation than that.
Welcome back, Eddie. I hope it's for good this time.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: