The first scene in Dolemite Is My Name sees Rudy Ray Moore, Eddie Murphy (“Shrek”, Meet Dave”), trying to get a record store DJ, Snoop Dogg, to play songs he’s recorded a long time ago. Snoop refuses, “I only play the hits”. It’s something that Rudy Ray Moore had to overcome his whole career.
Rudy had big ambitions of being a star but never made it. He tried a whole heap of ways to make it, but it just didn’t happen: singer, shake dancer, fortune teller, nothing’s worked. When he learns that the local homeless have wild, and funny, stories to tell, he creates a new persona to tell them, Dolemite.
Dolemite is bold, wild and not afraid to tell brash stories to anyone who’ll listen, and he does so with a backing track as he all but raps his comedy. He comes up with the idea of cutting another record, but this time it’s a live recording of Dolemite doing his stand-up. They’re a hit.
Next, whilst watching a movie, Rudy gets the idea of making one himself, something that will appeal to the people he knows. He hires a local screen writer and bumps into D’Urville, Wesley Snipes (“The Recall“, “Chi-Raq“), an actor who’s been directed by Roman Polanski in Rosemary’s Baby…he was the elevator man.
He convinces D’Urville to be in the movie, but he has to let him direct. D’Urville is at his wits end as everything about the movie is bad in his eyes, but he pretty much just points the cameras and yells action and cut every now and then.
Next, Moore faces more no’s and more closed doors as he tries to get anyone to show the movie. He’s broke, but a cinema owner lets him have the midnight slot and he packs it out and Dimension International take notice and buy the distribution rights. The rest, as they say, is history.
Whilst this is, undoubtedly, an Eddie Murphy vehicle, to bring him back to the fore, it does absolutely no harm to Wesley Snipes either, who is absolutely brilliant. Everyone that’s in it is great: Murphy, Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph who plays Lady Reed, they are all superb.
Everything about Rudy Ray Moore is perfect for Murphy and Murphy is perfect for the role. He swaggers his way through whilst also encouraging others to do the same. It’s all an act, he proclaims, put on a cape and you can be anyone.
The story, such that it is, is a tad thin on the ground, given how long Moore’s career lasted and the influence he has had on a plethora of stars, not least Snoop Dogg himself.
Where the movie is most successful, and the section that takes up the most time, is the making of the movie, the movie within the movie if you will. It’s hilarious. As Snipes eye-rolls and can’t contain his disbelief at what’s going on, to Murhpy trying to keep it all together and keep everyone happy.
Director Craig Brewer (“Empire (TV)”, “Black Snake Moan”) takes the script of writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“Goosebumps“, “American Crime Story (TV)”) and makes it as bold, colourful and as brash as Dolemite himself.
I’m sure there’s probably something deep and meaningful to say about three white guys making a movie about a Blaxploitation legend, but that’s for someone else. I’ll stick to the movie and, whilst the first act flew by, it felt like it’s going to be tough going. Stick with it, for Dolemite is dynamite, but it’s the performances that make it.