29 Oct 2019

Review: Dolemite Is My Name

From Widescreen, 5:49 pm on 29 October 2019

Dolemite Is My Name is a joyful tribute to a movie maverick and contains a tour-de-force performance from Eddie Murphy, writes Dan Slevin.

Eddie Murphy returns to the screen triumphantly in Dolemite Is My Name.

Eddie Murphy returns to the screen triumphantly in Dolemite Is My Name. Photo: Netflix

Back in the early days of Ant Timpson’s Incredibly Strange Film Festival, Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite was one of the biggest hits. A super-cheap blaxploitation classic, like many of the films we saw in that festival, it was remarkable for the ineptitude and hubris on display. Moore himself starred as the titular Dolemite, a kung fu wielding badass pimp determined to get revenge on the former associate who had him put away on trumped up charges.

At the time I had included it in that category of Incredibly Strange movies that were so bad they were good – heroic failures like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space – but Dolemite was actually a significant hit for Moore in 1975. Despite the tiny budget and inexperience of almost all the participants, it ended up making over $12 million dollars at the box office and spawned several sequels.

And now Moore’s entrepreneurship, if not his talent or filmmaking ability, gets a fitting tribute in the form of a feature film, Dolemite Is My Name. Like Tim Burton’s 1994 Ed Wood, which celebrated the indefatigability of Plan 9 From Outer Space’s creator Ed Wood (and like Ed Wood this new picture is written by the screenwriting team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski), Dolemite Is My Name puts a joyful and comedic spin on the story and- yet again like Ed Wood – it offers a crackerjack of a role to a leading actor.

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Photo: Netflix

Eddie Murphy is dynamite as Dolemite/Rudy, showcasing all the charisma in the world as well as the depth and soul of a creator who no matter how wobbly things might get would still keep moving forward.

The real Moore was a jobbing Los Angeles comedian and musician with dreams of greatness. Listening to shaggy dog stories from the old-timers on the street inspired him to create the character of Dolemite and his early record albums were surprise hits – surprising mostly because they were too blue to be sold in mainstream record stores.

Determined to bring the Dolemite character to as many people as possible, Moore invested almost everything he had in the motion picture business – despite knowing nothing and nobody.

Wesley Snipes is just one of many cameos and great supporting performances in Dolemite Is My Name.

Wesley Snipes is just one of many cameos and great supporting performances in Dolemite Is My Name. Photo: Netflix

Dolemite Is My Name is an affectionate portrait of Moore and his times, with excellent supporting performances from the likes of Wesley Snipes, Keegan Michael Key and especially Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed who became the iconic Queen Bee in the Dolemite movie. But nobody is going to take this film off Murphy who re-establishes himself as one of our greatest movie stars.

I say no one is going to take this film off Murphy, but he does have one contender – costume designer Ruth E. Carter who has created several wardrobes full of jaw-dropping garments for all the characters. She must be a front-runner for a second Oscar – she won her first for Black Panther earlier this year.

Dolemite Is My Name is streaming on Netflix now. According to their classification system it is rated 18+ (as you might expect from a film about this topic starring Eddie Murphy). Netflix have failed to take the obvious opportunity to programme the original Dolemite films beside this new tribute. You won’t find them streaming on any legitimate New Zealand services.

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