Dolemite is My Name Review
While he still has some way to go before he can be completely forgiven for cinematic crimes such as A Thousand Words and Imagine That, there’s no denying it’s good to see Eddie Murphy back on our screens. Aside from reappearing as Axel Foley in the Beverly Hills Cop TV movie in 2013 and barely making a noise in Mr. Church a few years ago, Murphy hasn’t been seen in anything of note for seven years, and now that's he's back it finally seems like he cares again.
Murphy’s likeability is the only thing he had going for him as he coasted through the past decade and a half in second gear. Playing one of his comedic inspirations, Rudy Ray Moore – aka Dolemite – has reignited him as a performer, and while the film plays it as safe as possible, Murphy is heavily invested in the material and carries it with his natural charisma. There’s even an outside chance it could pitch him into award season territory given the late-year release date.
Director Craig Brewer’s fifth feature is an affectionate recollection of Moore’s rise from middle-aged record store manager to prominent Blaxploitation director in the ‘70s. Moore travelled to California from Arkansas as a young man with high hopes of making it big as a comedian. But he never struck gold and only once he adapted the dirty stories of a local wino called Rico for a live audience did he finally find his groove.
The first half of Dolemite is My Name focusses on how Moore recorded a series of raucous stand-up albums that quickly gained him notoriety – although he realised that to really make a name for himself he had to do it at the movies. That’s where we are introduced to D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes – another actor still searching for cinematic redemption), a self-absorbed drunk who believes he’s too good to direct Moore and his ‘amateurs’. Luckily for Murphy’s sake they don’t share too much screen time as it’s a frequently funny and film-stealing performance. Hopefully it's not only Murphy's career that gets re-ignited after this.
Brewer’s aim is to keep the tone light and commercially accessible and in that respect it’s a complete success – just don’t go in expecting any social commentary to contextualise the time period. There’s next-to-no peeling back of Moore’s character, or that of anyone else we see, beyond the drive and self-belief that enabled him to hustle his way towards making seven more films. Of course, his debut was a complete shambles in a Disaster Artist kind of way, but it found an audience and its success opened the door for other Black filmmakers to follow.
Dolemite is My Name is every inch Murphy’s film and there isn't a moment when he's not front-and-centre of the screen, while ably supported by the likes of Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Tituss Burgess and Da'Vine Joy Randolph. Elsewhere, T.I., Chris Rock and Snoop (whose entire career is indebted to Moore) also make cameo appearances. Warmly shot by DP Eric Steelberg, it feels like the ideal fit for Netflix and as long as Murphy wants to chase good roles instead of an easy pay cheque, this should be the start of a late-career revival.
Dolemite is My Name is available to stream on Netflix now.