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Review: Dolemite Is My Name

October 11, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Rudy Ray Moore was a self-described entrepreneur and fledgling musician who worked in a record shop in the 1970s, when he decided to branch out into doing comedy records.

Creating a flamboyant alter-ego named Dolemite, a foul-mouthed pimp who speaks in verse, Moore ended up becoming a massively successful comedian, paving the way for the production of his first film, a Blaxploitation movie called Dolemite, which was released in 1975 and became a sleeper hit.

Moore’s story is told in Dolemite Is My Name, a biopic done right that stars a perfectly cast Eddie Murphy, and mainly focuses on the ramshackle production of the film Dolemite, which was made on a shoestring budget, delivering a mix of over the top action, humour and lots of sex, catered specifically to black audiences.

Moore hires pretentious playwright Jerry Jones (Keegen-Michael Key) to help craft the screenplay, conceded background actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to act as the director, and a white college kid named Nick (Kodi Smitt-McPhee) to serve as cinematographer, shooting the film in an abandoned, rundown motel that they get for cheap. A starring role in the film is given to Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a headstrong single mother that he meets after one of his shows, who becomes an integral part of his musical act.

Directed by Craig Brewer, working from a screenplay by Ed Wood writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, Dolemite Is My Name is a hilarious and wildly entertaining movie that features a bravura performance from Murphy, delivering one hell of a comeback. I grew up watching (and hearing) him in films like Trading Places, The Nutty Professor and Shrek, so I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see him back in the spotlight delivering a powerhouse performance like this.

First off, Murphy is hilarious in Dolemite Is My Name, reminding us how great a comic talent he is, with an energy that is almost unmatched. Dolemite’s rhythmic delivery in his standup routines is credited with helping pave the way for rap music, and Murphy does a brilliant job of copying the cadence of his delivery. But he also succeeds at bringing a level of pathos to this role, reminding us how nuanced he can be as a performer. This is the actor’s best work since his Oscar-nominated dramatic role in Dreamgirls back in 2006, and one of the finest performances of his career.

The supporting cast is uniformly strong, including breakout work from Da’Vine Joy Randolph. The film also boasts solid work by cinematographer Eric Steelberg, who does a good job of capturing the look and feel of the ’70s, and appealing costumes designed by the great Ruth E. Carter, who is fresh off winning an Oscar for Black Panther. Moreover, Dolemite Is My Name functions as an inspiring ode to never giving up on your dreams and creating opportunities for yourself when others don’t give you a chance.

In addition to the apt Ed Wood comparisons, the film also has clear shades of The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s equally hilarious biopic of The Room filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, and anyone who appreciates stories about gonzo, outsider artists are sure to find enjoyment in Dolemite Is My Name. It’s a blast to watch, and when I saw the film at TIFF, the whole audience laughed and clapped throughout.

Dolemite Is My Name is now playing in limited release at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here. It will be available to watch on Netflix as of October 25th.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

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