Based on the life of Blaxploitation actor, comedian, and pioneering independent movie producer Rudy Ray Moore, Director Craig Brewer’s (Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan) latest film “Dolemite Is My Name” chronicles the behind the scenes making of the much celebrated 1975 African-American film “Dolemite”. In the comeback of comebacks of casting stratagems, Eddie Murphy delivers his most comical and sincere performance since 2000’s “Bowfinger”, as he plays a character just wanting to find a little success. By bringing great enthusiasm and kinetic energy to the role, Murphy’s performance also hones enough heartbreak and poignancy that makes it one of the highlighted performances of the year.
Shortly before Dimension Pictures “Dolemite” screened at theaters, Rudy Ray Moore was a failed comedian, musician, and even worked as a fortune teller, and at a record store. Rudy even tries to persuade Roj (Snoop Dogg), the records store DJ to play his material. One day after work he encounters a homeless man who rhymes out a story about a black folklore type of hero named “Dolemite”, and he ends up using the man’s story into his own alter ego during his stage acts, and his comedic records even end up making the sales charts upon the creation of his new persona.
While at the movies with his friends on a Christmas night, he realizes he needs to bring Dolemite to the silver screen. He ventures out and finds his own crew that includes an actor turned screenwriter named Jerry, (Keegan-Michael Key), a film student cinematographer Nick (Kodi Smit-McPhSnoopee), and Blaxploitation actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), who Dudy convinces him to have his directorial debut with “Dolemite”. Brewer, along with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the writing duo of Tim Burton’s 1994 masterpiece “Ed Wood”, and the 1996 Milos Foreman classic “The People vs. Larry Clark” revisit themes of the past struggles of the American Dream, and how many aspire to the American dream, even if it means deceiving and conning others, including themselves to reach that dream. While the film doesn’t quite reach the pathos or despair that was found in those masterworks, the story about a passionate and desperate person looking for validation and success is still to be found here.
Certainly exuberant and just a joy to watch, the film is also spirited in its details on the struggles of making an independent movie. It captures Rudy Ray Moore and his collaborators drive, determination, withdraws and setbacks that made Moore’s vision come to fruition. While the film takes a few missteps halfway through, it leaves so many unanswered questions that just needed more meat. Does Moore’s family hold disdain or reluctance in Moore taking such a high risk in making the movie? The scene is brought up in a particular moment, but is quickly leaped over. Sadly the structure of “Dolemite Is My Name” is mostly a series of events, as it just moves too quick as it plays out more as a highlight of certain events as most bio-pics do.
Nevertheless, “Dolemite Is My Name” succeeds on many more levels. What is commanding here is how the supporting cast gets enough great moments to shine, while Murphy is first-rate here, many of the supporting cast get scene-stealing and memorable moments. especially Wesley Snipes who is just a complete standout as D’Urville (The elevator operator in “Rosemary’s Baby”), who is agitated by the disorganization of the set that leads him to mostly napping instead of directing, while Moore takes over the set. The film also holds ideas about race, especially how segregation dominates the movie industry, especially in the 60’s and 70’s, as Billy Wilder’s “The Front Page” was treated compared to a rare movie like “Dolemite”.
All around “Dolemite Is My Name” is a fun and informative behind-the-scenes account of a bygone film genre. “Dolemite Is My Name” would play well with Mario Van Peebles “Baadassss”, which also recounted the behind-the-scenes struggles and setbacks of another Blaxploitation artist Melvin Van Peebles, who’s directorial debut of “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” also endured many hardships before reaching cult movie status. Both films play a wonderful tribute to the power of creativity, and the setbacks that arise from pursuing ones passion and dreams during a time of even tougher odds.
*Now Streaming on Netflix