I first learned of Dolemite when Rudy Ray Moore brought the character to a Big Daddy Kane song in 1990. I eventually saw the movie, but it has been years and I think I may need to give it a rewatch. Rudy Ray Moore was an entertainer who created the character of Dolemite in his stand up routines and then rolled him into a few blaxploitation films in the 1970s. The genre had already been established with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song by Melvin Van Peebles in 1971 and went on to includes Shaft, Super Fly, Hammer, Trouble Man, Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, Foxy Brown, and Black Belt Jones.
Eddie Murphy had met Rudy Ray Moore several times prior to his death in 2008 and had mentioned wanting to make a biopic about his life. Here, Murphy has worked with writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski to bring a piece of Moore’s life to screen during the years he developed Dolemite and brought him to the screen.
Rudy Ray Moore is working in a record store in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, trying to get the in-store radio station to play his songs while working as a stand-up comedian introducing bands in the evening. Disappointed at his lack of progress, he develops the character Dolemite based on the rhymes of Rico, a bum who comes into the store one day. He spends time with Rico and his homeless friends, collecting their stories and jokes. Moore gets a wig, an outfit, and a pimp cane to bring Dolemite to the stage as a rhyming over-the-top bragging pimp character. Audiences love it, so Moore and his friends work together to release an album of his raunchy comedy. And I mean raunchy. It becomes a hit and he tours to support it. To celebrate, they go to see a movie, but are befuddled by the ‘comedy’ the majority white audience is laughing at. Moore decides its time to make a Dolemite movie to bring the character to the world.
After meeting with a studio head that has made other blaxploitation movies and being turned down, Moore accepts funding from a company that agrees to start him, but warns him he will be in debt for the rest of his life if he fails. He and his friends convert an abandoned hotel in L.A. to a makeshift soundstage, get help from some film school students, and work to bring Dolemite to life.
Craig Brewer directed Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and multiple episodes of Empire. He is currently working on Coming 2 America and brings a lighthearted touch to this biopic. It is fast-paced and hilarious while managing to have some truly touching moments as well. The costumes and music are fantastic but the true genius of this movie is the cast.
- Eddie Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore as a dreamer with the will to work to achieve those dreams. The movie perfectly illustrates the message that you can accomplish anything if you are willing to put in the work and believe in yourself. Murphy’s performance is nothing short of excellent and absolutely should be Oscar nominated this coming spring. He gives Moore the self confidence to lead a group of friends towards a goal with the well-honed comedy chops I sometimes forget he has, while adding just a touch of doubt when things begin to fail around him. It’s wonderful on every level.
- Keegan-Michael Key plays Jerry Jones, the writer that Moore finds in a local playhouse and recruits to write the Dolemite movie. Key gives Jones just the right since of artistic integrity as he is swiftly won over by Moore’s enthusiasm to provide something entertaining for the people.
- Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, and Tituss Burgess play Jimmy, Ben, and Toney, Moore’s main crew, who help get the movie off the ground and support Moore’s dreams while also having an absolute blast making a movie.
- Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Lady Reed, who Moore meets while touring the south. He brings her on board to sing with him and help provide fashion sense for the movie. She has a brilliant moment when Moore confesses to her that he’s worried about the sex scene in the movie because he knows he not as handsome as other movie stars. She reminds him it doesn’t have to be sexy, it can be funny, and that’s his strong suit. I loved the true friendship depicted between the two of them.
- Kodi Smit-McPhee shows up not blue as Nick, one of the film school students who comes in to be the director of photography for the movie.
- Snoop Dogg plays the record store DJ and Tip T.I. Harris plays the studio head who turns down Dolemite at first. Chris Rock plays an Indiana radio DJ who helps Moore get the movie to theaters. They’re all basically cameos, but they are really fun and you can tell they had a good time being there – especially T.I., who seems to love his office, costume, and his lines.
- Luenell plays Moore’s Aunt who funds some of his early projects and gives him the motivation to keep going.
- Wesley Snipes plays D’Urville Martin and steals every single scene he is in. Martin had done several movies prior to 1975. Moore and his crew spot him in a strip club and talk him into acting in and directing their movie. He’s never convinced of the project, and leaves it in epic fashion when completed. Snipes gives D’Urville a pompous-jerk with piles of eye-rolling attitude. It’s horrifically campy and absolutely perfection in this movie.
Overall, I loved it – watch this movie. It’s currently playing on Netflix and because it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, should be Oscar-eligible. I really hope that it gets some nominations, it’s beautifully done.
9 out of 10 – Side note, while the main theme is believing in yourself and working for your dreams, despite your naysayers – there is a side theme I was even more drawn to, perhaps due to the comments recently from certain directors that certain mainstream movies aren’t true cinema. The part I loved most about Dolemite Is My Name is the idea of making a movie that people want to see - the core goal is entertaining the audience. Moore literally runs down a list of things people love and wants them in the movie. Once they finish the movie, the remind each other that they love it, and critics opinions don’t matter. They make a movie for the joy of making movies, for an audience that loves movies. I love that message, and wholeheartedly support it. Moore would have loved it.
"Was it as good as Shaft?" Hell yes it was.
Original Trailer so you can see how accurate this version is!