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Dolemite Is My Name
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by Lybarger

"You have to be a rat soup eating motherf*ucker not to like this movie."
5 stars

If you’re too young to have seen Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live, Beverly Hills Cop or Bowfinger, you might not know that Eddie Murphy is a supremely talented comic.

Far too many of the movies he’s been in have been a waste of his time and ours, but Dolemite Is My Name is a happy reminder of what his capabilities, and directors Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. O.J.) ask and demand Murphy to play emotions he’s never had to demonstrate before.

It might help that Murphy’s playing a man who influenced him and later became his friend. During the 1960 and 70s, Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy) gained a cult following for his raunchy comedy albums like Eat Out More Often (you can guess what the cover resembles). The son of a sharecropper from Ft. Smith, Ark., Moore had tried breaking into show business by singing, dancing and even preaching.

By the time he reached middle age, he was managing a record store. Even the in-house disc jockey (played by real-life Rudy Ray Moore fan Snoop Dogg) in the shop won’t play his songs. Moore notices that some of the drifters who gather outside the store have funnier stories than the ones he tells as a nightclub M.C. With the help of alcohol and a tape recorder, he preserves and refines their tales until he marches up to the stage in a gawdy pimp costume and brings the crowd to life.

One of several smart things that Brewer and Murphy do is demonstrate that Moore didn’t instantly walk up to the mic and make magic immediately. Watching Moore work out rhymes and wordplay until they’re suitably presentable shows that there was more to the late comedian and his brash persona than profane rants. His verse may have been as dirty as a pigpen, but it does take effort to come up with material that’s both vulgar and amusing.

Because Murphy can effortlessly switch accents and impersonate people at will, it’s easy to take for granted that both he and Moore didn’t create their art in a vacuum.

As Moore’s albums become underground hits (radio stations won’t play them, and record stores sell them under the counter), he wants to make a movie about his kung fu fighting pimp Dolemite. Dolemite may be invincible, but even studios that market to African-American crowds don’t see how the portly, 40-something Moore can be convincing as an action hero when he doesn’t know martial arts. When Blaxploitation films usually starred thespians like Fred Williamson, Pan Grier and Richard Roundtree, who were in their physical primes, it’s easy to tell why they’d say no.

By borrowing money from his record label and enlisting his friends, Moore assembles his own movie, even though only the cinematographer (Kodi Smit McPhee) has any idea how to make a film. The film’s nominal director D’Urville Martin (a hysterically funny Wesley Snipes) barely takes breaks from drinking to say “cut.”
As with Ed Wood, Alexander and Karaszewski treat Moore like a kindred spirit instead of an object of ridicule. Moore’s movie is funny, and it has the carnal delights it promises, even if you don’t have to guess where the boom mics are hidden. While Dolemite, himself, may be the object of every straight woman’s desire, the actor who plays him is actually insecure about shedding his clothes.

Brewer brings out a vulnerability in Murphy that is as welcome as it is surprising. When Moore isn’t strutting around in his outlandish clothes (designed by Black Panther’s Ruth Carter), he’s a more reserved fellow.

This reticence and Moore’s surprising generosity to his cohorts keeps him from seeming like an egotistical hack. He develops a close, platonic relationships with fellow comic Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who becomes a star despite the fact that her build is more like Moore’s than Pam Grier’s. Movies can reveal unexpected beauty, and there’s a lot of it in Dolemite Is My Name.

The supporting cast holds their own with Murphy, particularly with Keegan-Michael Key as an earnest playwright who isn’t sure about getting into raunchy comedy and Titus Burgess who’s Moore’s right-hand man.

While Moore’s vulgarity is ably captured, there’s a sweetness throughout the film that makes his Quixotic journey enjoyable. Murphy has never been more appealing. Perhaps more boom mics should be showing in his movies.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33158&reviewer=382
originally posted: 10/26/19 09:18:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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