Published on November 21st, 2019 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Dolemite Is My Name and the Return of Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy returns with Neltflix’s Dolemite is my name. We look at both the movie and the career of both Murphy and Rudy Ray Moore.
Welcome back, Eddie. We missed you.
Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name tells the story of Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy), an entertainer who dabbled as a comedian, musician, singer, actor and filmmaker. He was a loser who refused to lose, and finally found success when his movie Dolemite (1975) was a surprise hit. Moore was almost 50-years-of-age when it was released by Dimension Pictures.
Dolemite Is My Name is a story of hustle and determination. It’s a pretty basic paint-by-numbers comedy docudrama but, like RRM himself, it’s got true heart. Moore might have been a loser, but he was also a dreamer and he stumbles across an unlikely source of inspiration in the form of a homeless man and his drinking buddies that Moore refers to as, “the liquor store wise men.” He takes their phrases, jokes, and all their back-alley wino chatter and turns it into a stage show and persona — Dolemite. He takes his new character on the road, hitting every club he can find until he builds a street rep. He finances, records and produces his own comedy albums and sells them on the corners and in the alleys. More street cred. Moore is so crafty, he even packaged his records to look like, “some shit you ain’t supposed to have.” Since no reputable record label would touch it because of the risqué material, Moore merchandised it as contraband and created a street currency, valuable in its defiance. Soon, people started to take real notice, and a movie was in the making.
The rest of Dolemite is about making a (low-budget) movie when you don’t know shit about making a movie. Murphy is surrounded in this endeavour with an outstanding cast that includes Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan Michael-Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Titus Burgess and Snoop Dogg. Dolemite becomes a project like the original films it pays homage to: fun as hell! The cast can hardly disguise how much they are enjoying working alongside Murphy, and their fun becomes our enjoyment. The movie is about a group of people working towards a goal that’s driven by a love of labour, and it’s hard to make that show on screen if it isn’t actually happening on the set. Seems to me that’s exactly what happened here.
The next time you fire-up Netflix I want you to click on this movie, rather than past it, for two good reasons: it has an irresistible cast in a well written movie, and it’s the best thing Eddie Murphy has been in for twenty years (Dolemite is a 7/10 to me, but Rotten Tomatoes has it a whopping 97%). And this is where things get tricky. I had a conversation prior to posting this article with Our Almighty Editor, Craig Silliphant, asking for his input. He warned me that any review of an Eddie Murphy movie had to be clear about one thing: is the write-up about the movie, or is it about Eddie? After pondering for a day or two I realized that it had to be about both, as they are inseparable.
If you didn’t grow up with Eddie Murphy from childhood as I did, he is now entering the third stage of a distinct three-Phase career. Phase one was clearly the most important, as it is both factual and unbelievable. It goes something like this: Murphy did stand-up comedy in clubs around his Brooklyn home from the ages of 15-18. At 18, Murphy auditioned for, and was accepted to, Saturday Night Live. He (almost single-handedly) saved the show from ruin. It was the last audition he would ever do, as everything after that was an offer. Three years after his SNL debut, Murphy broke out as a movie star and made seven (!?!) consecutive movies that would open #1 at the box office. Let that sink in for a minute.
Dolemite is My Name is a lot like Rocky, but with a specific goal in mind. Rocky was a dimwitted lug who didn’t believe in himself. It took the confidence of others to do that. It wasn’t Rocky’s idea to become heavyweight champ of the world, that was somebody else’s dream for him. Rocky didn’t know what he was doing or have much direction in his life. RRM, by contrast, believed in himself and his ideas. Lack of confidence by others did not deter him. RRM was a nobody determined to be a somebody, whose only real talent was not giving up. Cheer-for-the-Underdog is a difficult movie to make since it’s been done so many times, and so well, by the likes of Rocky, Rudy, The Karate Kid, Pretty Woman or Slumdog Millionaire. But at any point in the movie where it seems like things might not turn out for Moore and his band of loyal hopefuls, it hurts your feelings.
The second phase of Eddie Murphy’s career started when he became a father and began to concentrate on family. And concentrate he did! Murphy is now the father of (gulp!) ten children. So, phase two of his movie career was about making things he could share with his children. Disney movies, silly movies, cartoon movies, some of them were just movies that showed Eddie being a good dad. Eddie is such a good dad that he went out and made movies for his kids to watch that only made back half their money. Like, four times. Why else would you make Daddy Daycare (2003), if not solely to show your children an age appropriate version of your work?
In this era, Eddie, “the fuck-you man!” of Delirious (1983) and Raw (1987), the two stand-up specials that turned comics into rock stars, was long gone. Fans during Phase 2 Eddie had to endure Metro (1997), The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Haunted Mansion (2003) and (Jesus Christ, Eddie, stop it!) Donkey’s Caroling Christmas-tacular (2010). Clearly, ten children with five women does not help you make awesome decisions. Full of hits and misses, Phase two is not entirely the dumpster fire some would have you believe, but explore at your own risk of disappointment and wasted time.
Dolemite is My Name nearly has the movie stolen away by Wesley Snipes, who is hilarious in his part as D’Urville Martin, the only legitimate, experienced actor in Moore’s first film. One particular scene shows the confused and hopeless grimace on his face as he watches a clumsy and cringeworthy ‘fight scene’ from behind the camera. The laughs are enhanced by the knowledge that Snipes is no stranger to fight scenes from martial arts training on his own action films.
It’s nice to see Craig Robinson here and everywhere he shows up (Pineapple Express; Eastbound & Down; Hot Tub Time Machine). Robinson can really sing. You can tell when he’s joking around on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but in Dolemite he actually gets to belt it out with a band and they sound pretty good. Relative newcomer, Da’Vine Joy Randolph is given a critical role in a male-dominated cast and she captivates in every scene as Lady Reed.
In fact, everyone seems to bring their part into the spotlight with comedy and conviction, but there is one particular turning scene at the end of the first act that really struck me. Moore offers to take his friends to the movies, and as they sit watching The Front Page (1974), the look on his face as he scans around the room at the laughing audience says it all: who the fuck is this supposed to appeal to? Certainly not me and my friends — we cannot/do not relate to this all-white cast and story. Hence, the final signal to Moore that there was room out there for films that told his type of story.
Rudy Ray Moore was a dreamer, a guerrilla film maker, and his own bank. It certainly does make for an interesting story because this is a man who had zero aspirations to make a perfect movie, but rather a specific type of movie that resonates with a very specific and over-looked audience. As a black man, he wanted to put a screen full of black actors up in front of a theatre filled with a black audience. Outside of blaxploitation films of the time, which Moore didn’t seem to fit into either, it was quite a feat of perseverance to get such a movie made. It’s also thrilling to watch it all come together, as the making of his movie provides relief to a stressful question that Moore had asked his friend (and himself) earlier in the film, “Hey man, how did my life get so small?”
And so, with Dolemite is My Name, we enter the third phase of Eddie Murphy’s career. Say what you will about the tiresome annoyance that was Phase two, the fact of the matter remains that Eddie Murphy has made more people laugh in the last 40 years than weed. As Murphy gears up to bring us familiar characters in new sequels (Coming Two America and Beverly Hills Cop 4), he is a different man. Eddie is almost hypnotically slow-moving now. Sure, he can still roar, punctuate, sing and bark mutherfuckers! with startling ease, but he is also a very chill dude. Eddie is measured and thoughtful, soft-spoken and still. Every gesture he makes thrills like the crescendo of a maestros baton. After the two movies, he will be delivering a stand-up special for Netflix, his first since 1987.
I predict that there will be a busy three years or so for Murphy, and then he will disappear back into his cavernous mansion with his giant family. So, enjoy all that he is doing while you can, starting with Dolemite Is My Name, and again on December 21st when he hosts Saturday Night Live for the first time in 35 years. I’m warning you right now: don’t burn yourself when you see it, it’s gonna be too hot in the hot tub.
And for an extra laugh: