Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Movie Review: Dolemite is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name **** / *****
Directed by: Craig Brewer.
Written by: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
Starring: Eddie Murphy (Rudy Ray Moore), Keegan-Michael Key (Jerry Jones), Mike Epps (Jimmy Lynch), Craig Robinson (Ben Taylor), Tituss Burgess (Theodore Toney), Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Lady Reed), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nick), Snoop Dogg (Roj), Barry Shabaka Henley (Demond), T.I. (Walter Crane), Luenell (Aunt), Wesley Snipes (D'Urville Martin), Aleksandar Filimonovic (Joseph Bihari), Ivo Nandi (Julius Bihari), Michael Peter Bolus (Lester Bihari), Kazy Tauginas (Saul Bihari), Chris Rock (Daddy Fatts), Bob Odenkirk (Lawrence Woolner).
Eddie Murphy may seem like an odd choice to play Rudy Ray Moore – the star of the cult movie Dolemite, that sprung out of his stand up and comedy records, that made Moore a star in the mid-1970s, when he was nearly 50 years old. Moore had tried for years to become a star – trying just about everything from music to magic and everything else, before his Dolemite persona made him big. When he made Dolemite, he brought along everyone around him – they made the movie on the fly, for almost no money, and no idea on how to make a movie. He was a generous man – beloved by those around him. Murphy has had the opposite career – he was one of the biggest comedy stars in the world by the time he was in his early 20s, and hasn’t always been the most beloved of movie stars in Hollywood. And yet, in the story of Rudy Ray Moore, Murphy has found one of (the best screen roles of his career. Murphy could have done an impression of Moore – there are few people in history as gifted a mimic as Murphy – but he doesn’t that do. He also doesn’t do much to make himself look like Moore either – even with the paunch he put on for the role, this is still very clearly Murphy in every scene in the film. And yet, much like Renee Zellweger in Judy, this is the type of biopic that helps to illuminate something about its subject and the star at the same time. It gives Murphy the best role he’s had since 2006’s Dreamgirls – although, to be fair, Murphy has pretty much stopped trying in the last decade, barely working (after all – he doesn’t need to). But here, Murphy reveals something deeper about himself. And he’s having an absolute blast doing it.
The film was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who seem like an odd choice for the job – most obviously because they are white). What they do essentially though is channel their screenplay for Tim Burton’s Ed Wood – but with Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore at its heart. Both characters are idealistic dreamers – whose dreams are bigger than their talent, but they keep on chugging anyway. Moore probably has more self-awareness than Wood ever did – he doesn’t labor under the assumption that he is making great art. He just knows what his audience wants – and believes he can give that to them. It’s charming to see them work.
The nature of Rudy Ray Moore’s story pretty much forces Murphy to be more generous than he can sometimes be onscreen. Moore was a generous guy – a guy who made room for everyone under his tent, and who surrounded himself with a lot of characters in their own right. Murphy is smart enough to allow others to steal some scenes from under him – no one more so than Wesley Snipes, who stars as D'Urville Martin – the most established of Moore’s collaborators (he brags he was directed by Roman Polanski – he was the elevator operator in Rosemary’s Baby). Snipes, who has reinvented himself somewhat in recent years, makes a meal of his over-the-top character. In Dolemite, he plays the bad guy – but he was also the credited director (although, as the movie shows, that was kind of a collaborative effort). Dolemite is My Name gives lots of opportunities for others to shine in small moments - Da'Vine Joy Randolph has a few genuinely touching moments here for example.
All of this makes the rest of the movie, which is the Eddie Murphy show, shine all the more. Murphy shows the genuine charm – the brilliant comic timing that made him a star throughout the film. He swears more than I’ve seen him swear in years here – and it all comes so naturally to him. Playing this type of role puts Murphy into a new light – and its great one for him. I have no idea if Murphy is going to capitalize on this in the future – his upcoming projects are all remakes and sequels – but it shows that that ambition to be a stretch hasn’t left him yet. This is one of the best performances of Murphy’s career – and seriously, it’s nice to have him back.

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