Review: Dolemite Is My Name
Max Ingleby is amused by Eddie Murphy’s take on Rudy Ray Moore despite otherwise predictable execution.
With a star-studded cast of African-American royalty that rivals The Lion King, I was expecting something great from Dolemite Is My Name, the new Netflix original movie starring Eddie Murphy as real-life godfather of rap Rudy Ray Moore. What I watched may not have been a ground-breaking, thoughtful, or masterfully made film, but a heartfelt, if flawed, tribute to an underappreciated comedy icon of the 1970s.
The story told is that of an All-American grifter, Rudy Ray Moore, a wheeler-dealer jack of all trades who has unsuccessfully tried his hand at everything from pop music to stand-up, and is floundering as a record store cashier. Everything changes when he creates Dolemite, an outrageously lewd pimp character based on a local “hobo” that takes the stand-up circuit by storm, rapping dirty rhymes over funky rhythms. Soon he has several hit albums under his belt, but he risks it all to finance and star in a big feature film called, you guessed it, Dolemite.
The cast for this film is ridiculous: Eddie Murphy, Snoop Dogg, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Rock, T.I. and Bob Odenkirk to name a few. Snipes is on brilliant form as the blatantly coked-up D’Urville Martin, a washed-up actor reluctantly persuaded to direct Dolemite’s movie, and Murphy does a fine job of injecting the film with energy and charisma. The soundtrack is a rock-solid mix of Marvin Gaye and Sly and The Family Stone among others, and the resplendent 70s outfits are a sight to behold.
Eddie Murphy gives an energetic and competent performance that carries the film along, but it lacks depth or a sense of vulnerability.
However, perfect this movie is not. The dialogue is sometimes painfully basic, some casting decisions are questionable (Keegan-Michael Key does not excel in a serious role) and under all the flamboyance and extravagant aesthetic, it’s just a very conventional biopic. Character arcs are quickly resolved and unadventurous, and the film feels sluggish and bogged down after the slightly rushed first half.
Most disappointingly, Eddie Murphy’s lead character feels undeveloped. We don’t feel like we truly know Rudy Ray Moore. Yes, he gets angry and frustrated and storms out of restaurants every now and again, but we never find out about his family life or romantic interests. Yes, he gets up every morning and hustles his way closer to fame, but why? Eddie Murphy gives an energetic and competent performance that carries the film along, but it lacks depth or a sense of vulnerability.
These are all pedantic quibbles. Truth be told, Dolemite does just fine in spite of these issues, as it is fundamentally a fun, easy watch, filled with filthy humour, racy hints of nudity (hence the R rating in the US) and a great character at its core. It is a fitting ode to the hugely entertaining Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, embracing the ridiculousness of the original Dolemite movie from 1975, posse of karate-fighting prostitutes and hilarious entrail ripping included. It may be somewhat predictable, but it’s uplifting, engaging and mostly a breeze to watch. If you’re looking for something easy and entertaining that you’ll probably forget in a week, then this is the one for you.