Directed By Craig Brewer
Starring – Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes
The Plot – Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.
Rated R for pervasive adult language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity
– Admirable protagonist. This isn’t a biopic about Moore, but rather the Dolomite character itself, taking us on a journey that begins with the inception of the character, and streams all the way through his success as a black big screen icon that transcended conventions. Because of this, you learn very little about Moore’s personal life when the lights and camera’s die down, but it’s the intelligence of the man inside that easily wins over here, and maintains our interest throughout. Moore was wise enough to spot an enormous black disconnect within the movie and critic industries alike, choosing instead to preserve his talents as this voice of the voiceless whose every move is inspired by the things he learned from his experiences as a black patron within the industry. Above all else, it was Rudy’s perseverance through doubt and adversity that prospered each time, and gave him the courage to make his own path when very few other men in suits would help him do so.
– 70’s aesthetic. This is easily Brewer’s most ambitious project to date, treating us to a visual spectrum that transports us to the heat of the disco decade, with enough stylish flare to convince us of a time so far removed from our own. In fact, there’s a lot of personality in the film’s camera movements and editing techniques that often make it feel like a property that was directly ripped from the same age of cinema that it is vibrantly depicting. Swing shots and blunt camera panning sequences are instilled to duplicate the same dramatic tension in the foreground of real life that is enveloping our characters within the realm of the fake movie taking place in the backdrop. Likewise, the cuts are used as a visual elaboration to the punchlines that Moore is dropping on-stage, used to better sell the reaction of the material. It documents Moore as so much more than an average joke-teller, and instead prides him on physically investing presence that made his act one of Shakepaerian efforts for its time.
– Unique conflict. In a biopic like this, you expect there to be some seedy corporate executive who uses and abuses Rudy and his friends for his own personal gain, but thankfully the screenplay rings more intelligent than that. Instead, we learn about midway through that it’s really the industry as a whole who serve equally as Rudy’s biggest doubters and motivators, breaking decades of pre-conceived prejudice within the dynamics of comedy to build something innovative for his race. Maintaining this as a faceless demon within Rudy’s own prosperity is something that weighs heavily on his every move, and allows the story to capture its pivotal importance in a way that blazed the trail for the many black comedians featured throughout the film. That more than anything speaks volumes to Rudy’s everlasting legacy as a pioneer, and allowed him to succeed on the very terms that he made for himself.
– Stunning enhancements. It’s amazing what a wig and light expressions of facial make-up can do with bringing to life the familiarity of Moore during the prime of his career. In this respect, Murphy becomes Moore with very little disbelief, other than the vast difference of vocal capacity that each men couldn’t be further from. Nothing inside ever feels ridiculous or overdone to the point that it takes away from the attention or the integrity of the scene, instead immersing us in the subtle transformation that Murphy and even Snipes dedicate themselves to wholeheartedly. It’s so effectively rich with authenticity that you buy it immediately, proving that sometimes subtlety is the best way to articulate character-defining traits.
– Informative. This is easily the biggest aspect of benefit for me, as what little I knew about Dolomite was really just Moore’s well documented backstory and upbringing. This film spends precious amounts of its near two hour run time to flesh out behind the scenes production notes and inspirations that really cast a shadow of credibility to the crew associated with “Dolemite”, in that it ever was as influential as it actually was. It finely illustrates the confines associated with independent cinema, and offers a rich texture of irony once you know how the donuts are made within a scene of familiarity that ever asked more questions than it answered. Aside from this, there’s a refreshing intimacy between the friends-turned-family that Moore brought all the way along to stardom, and the film articulates this within the many conversations and interactions that take place between them. The dialogue is rich, the weight of importance within the film is well defined, and it all gives Brewer’s film a feeling of intentional family values that I honestly wasn’t expecting.
– Vivacious musical score. It makes sense that the very same man, Scott Bomar, who was responsible for the award-winning score of “Hustle and Flow” is the composer tasked with capturing the scintillating atmosphere of the funk generation. This is realized in spades, as the soulful conscience that allures us through the many stylish transition sequences treats us to enough wawa guitar and up-tempo drum beats to audibly sedate us. Bomar captures a level of originality in trance-funk offerings that is unlike anything currently narrating tonal capacities in today’s big screen releases, and gave me several instances of toe-tapping glee that consistently channeled the cool factor atmosphere that was prominent throughout so much of the movie.
– Film within the film. This is such a creative way to blend the best of modern production values with the familiarity of the original “Dolemite” movie, creating the rare chance to see what might have been if a big name studio took a chance on this property. Not only are the backdrops and character placements perfectly rendered in the frame of each sequence that actually took place in the real movie, but they are enhanced with top-notch sound editing that give the scenes of physical conflict an air of authenticity. Sure, there’s still enough silliness maintained from the uninspiring set designs, which were really just hotel rooms being made to look like their intended story setting, but the differences here are unmistakable, and do an important duty in possibly illustrating Moore’s intended vision, if time, money, and production limitations weren’t a factor.
– Too much talent. There are no shortage of who’s who celebrities popping in to add a different dimension to the picture, assembling a collective ensemble that only rivals The Avengers in terms of reputable depth. Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Kodi Mcphee-Smit, Keegan-Michael Key, and Netflix own Tituss Burgess all add their diverse personalities to the complexion of the film, offering multiple amounts of dream pairing scenarios that we’ve waited decades to experience. Beyond these names, however, there are two men who do an extensive amount of the hefty dramatic lifting, Murphy and Snipes, who deserve academy recognition for their passionate turns. Snipes as the condescending director of “Dolemite” exerts through many scene-stealing circumstances, including a death scene within the fictional film that captures the lack of excitement for the character. Speaking of excitement, the raw energy from Murphy to the film’s titular role is one that was exciting to see for this big Eddie fan, and preserved easily his greatest performance since “Dreamgirls”. It’s important that Murphy doesn’t try to emulate the familiar delivery of Moore, choosing instead to make the role his own in a way that provides several clever parallels to his own relationship with comedy. In fact, the most rewarding scenes of the film are the ones where Murphy himself stands on stage in front of a microphone, even if he isn’t delivering his own material for our delight. On the performance spectrum, Eddie gives a bigger-than-life portrayal that channels the kind of vulgarity, heartfelt sentiment, and of course endless charisma that he once adorned each film with. If nothing else, it’s great to see him back in his prime, paying homage to a man who he has a lot to thank for.
– Flat humor. It’s especially surprising in a comedy about Blacksploitation, a subgenre that has never offered me any shortage of gut-busting reprieve, that the film’s comic muscle fell so flat. There are a few times when I lightly chuckled, but nothing that ever reached the kind of firepower or consistency that Moore made a living off of. I think most of it deals with the film underestimating the weight of its dramatic details, only teasing moments when the much needed tension could’ve added to the uncertainty of Moore’s flailing big screen future. For my money, the comedy just doesn’t ring as effective with me for whatever reason, perhaps acting as the very same cultural disconnect that Moore was elaborating at when he and friends catch a Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau movie during the film, and don’t laugh once despite everyone around them being crippled with laughter.
– Slight pacing problems. This is particularly during the second act of the movie, where the film’s grounded progression does positively replicate the pacing of 70’s social life, but unfortunately renders the film stuck in place creatively for longer than I would actually like. “Dolemite Is My Name” is above all else a fun sit, but it’s one that could afford to shave around fifteen minutes of screen time, particularly during the brainstorming sequences with friends, that are visually elaborated at only a scene later each time. On top of this, there’s an introduction for every character of which there are no shortage of. That means each time a new celebrity pops up, we know five minutes of exposition will follow. It gives the storytelling a halted progress to bring a new character up to speed, and strands us the audience during the moments when the developments were starting to materialize.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+