THE STORY – The story of performer Rudy Ray Moore, who assumed the role of an iconic pimp named Dolemite during the 1970s.
THE CAST – Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph & Wesley Snipes
THE TEAM – Craig Brewer (Director), Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
By Will Mavity
Take “The Disaster Artist” but give it better filmmaking across the board and more social relevance and you have “Dolemite Is My Name.” It’s a love letter to movie making and more importantly, to the “Godfather of Rap,” Rudy Ray Moore (A sensational Eddie Murphy), a record store manager turned standup comic turned chart-topping musician turned box office shattering film producer and actor. Moore carved out a niche for himself in industries that would not take him. He made massive box office hits. And unlike Tommy Wiseau, he didn’t have $7 million cash lying around to make his movie.
A story of a plucky team of misfits who team together to make a hit movie on a nothing budget is inherently inspiring, even more so when it is true. What really makes “Dolemite Is My Name” stand out is, well, everything else. For starters, the ensemble cast is spectacular. Eddie Murphy is the best he has been in 20+ years as Rudy Ray Moore. He nails the comedy, but more importantly, underlies it with the sense of dueling arrogance and vulnerability. He creates a lead who is both outrageous and easy to root for. Wesley Snipes is the MVP of the supporting cast, as a snobby (and alcoholic) “real” actor turned director. Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“Empire”) also shines as Moore’s friend and co-star. Other people like Keegan Michael Key, Chris Rock, Titus Burgess, Craig Robinson, and Snoop Dogg also get great standout moments.
Then, there are the costumes. Oscar-Winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter (“Black Panther”) got a standing ovation when she was introduced at the premiere, because she has nailed the period look, creating colorful and period-accurate costumes for the “real world” inside the film, and even more colorful and over-the-top costumes for Moore’s standup routine and for the movie within a movie. The costumes are so impeccable that they can be considered a character within themselves. Craig Brewer’s direction is dynamic and engaging, Billy Fox’s editing keeps the narrative moving along and accentuates the comedic beats. If there is any drawback, it is Eric Steelburg’s cinematography which is occasionally murky and offers distracting lens flares here and there.
Beyond the performances and tech, however, “Dolemite Is My Name” has so much to say. It is a rallying cry for outsiders to break into Hollywood, and showcases the dissonance between what primarily white Hollywood thinks most audiences want, versus what huge numbers of audiences may actually want. Its “movie within a movie” shows that a film with two leads of average body types can be a success in an industry that favors inhumanly low body fat percentages. And of course, there are all kinds of subtext about ego and parental expectations. Admittedly, some of these themes are spelled out a tad too literally in the dialogue. But there is more than enough wit elsewhere in the script to compensate. And that wit, unsurprisingly given the cast, is one of the film’s biggest strengths. It is hysterical. Some scenes (an outrageous sex scene in particular) are among the funniest of the year. It is rare that a drama can land so many comedic beats and still feel compelling as a drama but “Dolemite Is My Name” does it. Enough comedy to easily qualify for the Golden Globes, but enough Drama to feel relevant.
In short, “Dolemite Is My Name” is a delightful surprise and a worthy comeback vehicle for Eddie Murphy. You are unlikely to find many better ensembles this year or anything else that makes you laugh this hard. It is a love letter to movies and an enlightening history lesson, and an all-around fun ride.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A fantastic ensemble cast. Hilarious comedy and an interesting real-life story.
THE BAD – Cinematography is murky and the screenplay is occasionally too on the nose.