Before Tommy Wiseau and The Room there was Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite. Dolemite Is My Name directed by Craig Brewer, is a return to form for actor and comedian Eddie Murphy. Murphy has been relatively dormant since 2016’s drama film The Church. In Brewer’s film however, Murphy returns to his comedic roots by taking on the mantle of Moore’s alter ego in this humorous biopic.
Since the movie’s premiere, Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a fresh 97% rating and it does not disappoint viewers about the swaggering African American folk hero.
Rudy Ray Moore passed away in 2008, but his vast career as a comedian, musician, singer, film actor and film producer has been greatly respected. Today, he is proclaimed to be the Godfather of Rap music as attested by rap artists such as Snoop Dogg who funnily enough has a cameo in the film.
According to Snoop Dogg who was interviewed by the New York Times at the time of Moore’s passing, stated, “Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that’s for real.”
Before Moore was known as Dolemite, Moore’s early career was working as a stand-up comedian in bars and clubs appearing in an early character known as Prince Dumarr. He joined the U.S Army and served in the entertainment unit where he was given the nickname Harlem Hillbilly for giving R&B renditions of country songs.
The plot of the film is set during 1970’s Los Angeles, America centering around the up and downs and ultimate triumph of Rudy Ray Moore’s success as a musician, comedian and actor. Moore works in the Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store where he witnesses the extraordinary potential of local homeless man Rico who recites vulgar stories of a character called Dolemite. Moore adopts the character, creating Dolemite as a charismatic 1970’s pimp. Moore’s comedic material improves, free versing his dictation with profane rhythmic lines and begins a successful tour within the regions of America’s deep South.
But these achievements are not enough for Moore and he envisions Dolemite to have his own motion picture. Having been turned down by a film executive Walter Crane (Tip T.I Harris) who admits to Moore the Blaxploitation genre is fading in popularity, Moore decides to make the movie himself. He convinces a social justice-minded dramatist Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to write the film, incorporating dramatised tropes of 1970’s pop culture: Kung Fu, car chases, nudity, action and comedy.
The film follows the aesthetic rags to riches story, an individual who remains to be persistent in creating his artistic dreams. Throughout the movie, Moore is an individual who is determined to reach success after being rejected numerous times but somehow overcoming them and seeing the comedic spectacle of it all makes the movie intriguing and entertaining.
One of the film’s highlights is Wesley Snipes’ portrayal as African American actor D’Urville Martin. Martin a prominent actor in 1970’s Blaxploitation films and best known as the elevator operator in Rosemary’s Baby is seen to be reluctant to star in Moore’s film as the villian Willie Green. Moore persists at the opportunity to have an African American movie star who has enjoyed a credible list of supported roles in white American pictures to take part in his film by giving D’Urville the additional role as film director.
Following a sequence of film takes D’Urville as director is dismayed by the acting process and lack of cinematic knowledge carried out by Moore. The facial expressions of Snipes’ reaction of Murphy’s/Moore’s acting is enough to make you laugh out loud. D’Urville even protests to the director of photography (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) in between takes, “I can’t stand this cat! Pretending like he knows karate. Pretending he’s a sex machine! Little kid playing dress-up.” The flamboyant and spontaneous acting played out by Murphy contrasts humorously well with the deadpan and horrified gestured Snipes as demonstrated by the clip below:
In having a character portrayed by a beloved personality such as Murphy, there is a hidden catharsis that comes out of both personalities. Eddie Murphy puts his all in bringing a character to life and there is a similarity of Moore’s comedic personality in Murphy’s nostalgic stand up Delirious and Raw. In giving a interview to Wall Street Journal, Murphy retells how he first came across Moore’s material when he was growing up with his older brother Charlie Murphy who died in 2017 and who the film is dedicated to.
For Eddie, he understands the distinction that Moore gave to his audience stating, “Here is the trip about Rudy Ray Moore. Even when I was a kid, we knew it was horrible. We always knew it was crude. We were laughing at how audacious the shit was. We couldn’t believe what he was saying. But I knew the difference between that.”
Through Murphy’s own appreciation about Moore’s work ethic, it is this combination of personalities of the two comedians that makes the viewer appreciate both artist’s sense of humour and the Blaxploitation genre as a whole.
In what’s in store for Eddie Murphy is his return to stand up comedy, set to host Saturday Night Live in December. Murphy is also planning to release a sequel to his 1988 film Coming to America which is due out in 2020.
Dolemite Is My Name is now available on Netflix.
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