Eddie Murphy has not been a lucky man in recent years after he was very busy back in his prime during the 80s—between his stand up and his stint on SNL. This paved the way for a career in film that included 48 Hours, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming to America (just to name a few). The following decade wasn’t as kind to him when it came to critical reviews, but he still had his share of hits like Bowfinger and Mulan, as well as box office hits like his remakes of The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle.
Then the 2000s happened. Aside from his voice work in the Shrek franchise and his award winning turn in Dreamgirls, Murphy struggled. Films like The Adventures of Pluto Nash, I Spy, and Norbit made him a regular at the Golden Raspberry awards. By the time the 2010s happened, his box office reputation was more in line with box office poison. Murphy then decided to keep quiet for a while, waiting for the next great project alongside his fan base. That project he hopefully waited for came to him as Dolemite is My Name—a biopic on iconic stand up comedian, blaxploitation actor and rap pioneer Rudy Ray Moore, famous for playing the titular persona Dolemite.
The movie begins with Moore as a struggling artist, working in a record store by day and MC to to Ben Taylor’s music group by night. Inspired by a homeless man spouting out rhymes, Moore creates his Dolemite persona and begins to dress as a pimp for the part. Though some people are turned off from the foul language involved in his routines, he quickly finds an audience among the black community, soon making comedy albums and initially selling them out of the trunk of his car. He tours the Deep South to promote the albums and becomes successful. After a viewing of the movie The Front Page, in which Moore and his friends are the only ones in the audience not laughing, Moore gets the idea to make his own Dolemite movie alongside his friends.
Eddie Murphy commands the screen as Moore, pulling no punches when it comes to his routine. This is easily Murphy’s best role in years, and it also helps that this is his first R-rated film since 1999. I’ve always believed that Murphy is at his most comfortable when he’s allowed to swear and be crazy (his family friendly films in the 2000s are exercises in how to waste comedic talent). If The Academy was daring, they’d throw an Oscar nomination his way. His entourage of friends and colleagues plays like a who’s who of black talent that includes Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Chris Rock and Wesley Snipes also appear in smaller but entertaining roles.
The movie was written by the team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who some people may remember as the duo behind Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. In a way, Dolemite is My Name is the blaxploitation answer to that movie. They both follow the biopic formula that was also explored a couple years ago with The Disaster Artist. Those familiar with those movies may find Dolemite is My Name kind of formulaic, but everyone involved is having such a blast on screen that it’s hard not to enjoy.
It’s ironic that I’m writing this review because the movie ends with Moore and his team reading less than favorable reviews of the Dolemite movie, only to be surprised by the massive turnout at its premiere. It just goes to show that you don’t need critical praise all the time, you just need a loyal audience. In the end, Moore got exactly what he wanted. It could also be a parallel to Eddie Murphy’s fan base, who always stand by his side through good times and bad times.
Dolemite is My Name follows a progression of events that seems typical of showbiz biographies, but is elevated by everyone standing in front of the camera. Eddie Murphy especially embodies the blaxploitation persona that likely inspired him to go into show business. It may be flawed, but I had a big smile on my face as I was watching it. By the time the movie was over, I only had one thought in my head: “Welcome back, Eddie.”
Dolemite is My Name is now available to stream on Netflix