Conventional wisdom is that Eddie Murphy deserved an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rudy Ray Moore in the Netflix film DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019).
After finally catching up with this one, I heartily agree. This is Murphy’s best work in years. That being said, while I agree that Murphy could easily have been nominated, I’m still glad Joaquin Phoenix won the award for his lead role in JOKER (2019), as for me, his was the best performance of the year.
But back to DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, a movie I liked a lot. It’s a bio pic of Rudy Ray Moore, who after years of struggling to make his name in show business, changed his name and took on a new persona, Dolemite, leading to best-selling comedy albums and eventually a string of successful 1970s blaxploitation movies. As such, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is also quite funny, because Rudy was a funny guy, as were his antics.
When DOLEMITE IS MY NAME opens, Rudy (Eddie Murphy) is stuck working in a record store and can’t get his own records played on the radio to save his life. He feels increasingly frustrated that he has worked his butt off with nothing to show for it. But when he hears a street person telling a series of jokes in a sing-song fashion, he realizes that this man and others like him are a treasure trove for material. So Rudy visits them on the streets and writes down their stories and their jokes, and he turns their source material into his own original act, creating a new character in the process, the charismatic Dolemite.
He’s an instant sensation at his local stand-up comedy venue, and then things just take off from there, leading to comedic record deals, and eventually movies.
Eddie Murphy is right at home playing Rudy Ray Moore and his alter ego Dolemite. Murphy is a natural at capturing Rudy’s raunchy comedic style since it fits right into Murphy’s own style of comedy back in his heyday. Better yet, Murphy nails the dramatic elements here as well. Early on, he does a great job showing Rudy’s frustrations with life, that he just can’t seem to catch a break, and he isn’t getting any younger. Likewise, after he has achieved success and has become a “star,” Murphy portrays Rudy as a man who never forgot his roots. He doesn’t become a jerk, and he treats his fans well. Murphy’s Rudy is a guy to be admired.
Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock are also in the cast and their presence is felt. This is actually the first time that Murphy and Snipes have ever made a movie together. They share some fun moments, as Snipes plays D’Urville Martin, who directed Dolemite’s first movie, and the two don’t always see eye to eye, which makes for some entertaining sequences.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph gives one of the best performances in the movie as Lady Reed, a performer who Rudy “discovers.” Their scenes together are some of the best in the film. Randolph enjoys lots of comedic moments and some dramatic ones, like when she thanks Rudy for giving her a chance, grateful that he overlooked her large size and didn’t let that stop him from promoting her.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is the film student Rudy hires to be his director of photography. Smit-McPhee has been in a bunch of movies in his young career, and my favorite remains his portrayal of the boy Owen in the exceptional vampire movie LET ME IN (2010) starring Chloe Grace-Moretz and directed by Matt Reeves. Sure, it’s a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), which many people prefer, but I like LET ME IN a lot. Smit-McPhee is excellent in it, and plus it’s a Hammer Film!
Director Craig Brewer really gives this one a 1970s look and feel and successfully recaptures the essence of Rudy’s original Dolemite movies. Things slow down a bit during the film’s second half, but other than this, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is an enjoyable piece of filmmaking, as long as you don’t mind lots of vulgar language.
The screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is ripe with coarse language, and there’s plenty of nudity as well, all capturing the 1970s blaxploitation feel. It also tells a noteworthy story and portrays Rudy Ray Moore as decent guy whose years of hard work eventually pay off. The movie is also hilariously funny.
I liked DOLEMITE IS MY NAME a lot. It tells a worthwhile story, features one of Eddie Murphy’s best performances in years, and in addition to being an informative biography of Rudy Ray Moore is exceedingly funny as well.
If you’re indoors social distancing looking for a movie to watch, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a worthy addition to your movie queue.