By Leslie C. Halpern
In this comedic biopic, Eddie Murphy recreates real-life 1970s Blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore whose desire to sing, act, and do standup comedy far exceeds his actual talent.
It’s hard to believe the ridiculous premise for this film is actually true: that a mediocre comedian named Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), who serves as a five-minute warm-up act for a singer in a small night club, adopts the persona of a foul-mouthed, flamboyant pimp based on tall tales from a group of homeless men. From this humble beginning, he successfully launches a film career as a martial arts action hero named Dolemite.
The impetus for all this is Moore’s relentless drive to succeed in show business despite limitations physically (a paunchy belly and no martial arts training) and financially (borrowed from various friends, family, and associates). He asks: “How did my life get so small?” Then he proceeds to enlarge it by finding creative inspiration in unlikely places, such as the ramblings of a loud-mouth wino, in a club where he witnesses a woman punch her cheating husband, and a movie auditorium where he doesn’t understand the film.
Not only does Moore raise the funds himself for the film production, but finds the cast, writer, and director, and manages to arrange a screening of his schlocky Blaxploitation movie in which he stars. Despite extremely low production qualities produced by an amateur cast and film-student crew, his movie becomes a hit and spawns a series of equally dismal sequels that somehow manage to entertain the masses.
Captures the 1970’s Zeitgeist
Although providing his usual over-the-top comedic performance, Eddie Murphy reveals the more sensitive side of his character when sharing moments with former back-up singer Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and conscientiously repaying money he owes to others. Murphy and Randolph play well off each other; she and her cleavage even manage to steal a few scenes.
The outrageousness of Dolemite is almost subtle in comparison to the outlandish pretentiousness of D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), a self-absorbed actor who agrees to direct Moore’s movie. As the only professional among amateurs, he’s insufferably pompous and consumed with his so-called star status to the point of ridiculousness.
Funny at times and always interesting, this film has characters, costumes, music, cars, and attitudes that capture the 1970’s zeitgeist and Blaxploitation with gusto and humor in a true story that feels more like fiction with its larger-than-life players.
Dolemite Is My Name
A struggling comedian adopts a pimp-like persona to advance his career in this comedy based on real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore.
- Stars: Eddie Murphy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
- Director: Craig Brewer
- Writers: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
- Genre: Biopic/Comedy
- Run Time: 118 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity)
Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.