Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) teams up with Eddie Murphy as the comedian and Oscar-nominated actor (Dreamgirls) embraces the “Godfather of Rep” with much success. It may well snowball into the next decade given the late-year-prime-time hosting gig, as well as a stand-up tour and Coming 2 America in the pipeline.
In Dolemite is My Name Murphy arguably returns to his “Raw” roots in a lively, irresistible venture of what amounts to an African-American Horatio Alger tale filled with passion and integrity to his character, Rudy Ray Moore. During the blaxploitation era Moore’s past-his-prime farceur would oddly transition well into film.
Some of the goofy magi marvels are evident here with estimable scribes Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on board as discerning cineastes may recall their Ed Wood as well as the recent low-budgeter The Disaster Artist.
The titular figure brought to life by Moore (an inspiration to Murphy’s career which took off in 1980s especially when Beverly Hills Cop came out) took the crestfallen toiler out of a Los Angles record store thanks to a hobo’s salacious rhythmic recitations. Outfitting himself into an emerald green pimp (Ruth E. Carter vividly evokes the period and the characters in her costume designs).
A chord is struck on stage with audiences and the record companies are simpatico as a low-level force emerges. But, Moore wants more to put the character on the silver screen albeit with no background or skill in the business. Ye, a martial-arts action-comedy Dolemite is made (in strong, exuberant fashion) after Moore attends a screening of 1974s dark dramedy (Lemmon/Matthau collaboration) The Front Page. And a franchise results from a grassroots winner. Moore, who passed away in 2008 would be included in the music of 2 Live Crew and Snoop Dogg (here, a disc-jockey)> . Chris Rock also appears in brief as a radio professional.
Within the polished craft contributions Brewer puts many established thespians in smaller, but effective turns. Craig Robinson and Mike Epps are close buds, while Keegan Michael-Key (Toy Story 4) is an edgy scribe. A preening Wesley Snipes is having droll fun as director and actor D’Urville Martin. And as plus-size Lady Reed, Da’Vine Joy Randolph makes quite the impression in batting adversity to enter the limelight.
With Dolemite Murphy arguably puts much affection in a character that is, by turns, pungent, witty and sensitive — the rebound his supporters have been awaiting. This cousin to Mario Van Peebles part-homage, part-documentary Baadasssss in its foxy, loony mythos puts his Long Island early professional days into perspective and a welcome sense of relevance.