“Dolemite is My Name” may be an affectionate homage to Rudy Ray Moore, profane “party record” stand-up comic of legend, progenitor of hip hop and forgotten pathfinder of the indie cinema.
For the film’s star, Eddie Murphy, it’s a “mutha-f—–g” victory lap.
It’s another movie about the making of a bad movie, a blaxspoilation “Disaster Artist” who had the last laugh about his “amateurish” low-brow action comedy long before generations of hipsters rediscovered him.
And as Moore, an aging, less-than-fit Arkansas dreamer who believed in himself, invested in himself and found every budding entrepreneur’s Holy Grail — an audience that white Hollywood wasn’t serving, and served them — Murphy has his best role in ages, a “Bowfinger” that is his and his alone.
The script of this Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow,” TV’s “Empire”) film takes Moore, in his 40s, struggling and hustling to sell the dated-sounded soul and pop records he’d recorded and trying to get a belated stand-up comedy career going, from struggle to gamble, disaster to triumph.
And Murphy makes us care and turns the coarse, rhyming comic “character” Moore appropriated into a laugh-at-me-and-with-me anti-hero. Being hilarious didn’t hurt Rudy Ray Moore, and that’s still in Murphy’s wheelhouse, decades past the days when he was comedy’s cutting edge.
We see Moore as an assistant manager of a famous Central Ave. L.A. record store, hyping the radio DJ (Snoop Dogg) whose studio is in the back of the store to play Moore’s 45s.
“I ain’t lyin’, people love me!”
Moore’s desperation to “be somebody,” to “get famous” has gotten him nowhere, just a tardy store underling (Titus Burgess of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) to hear his complaints.
“I ain’t got nothin’ nobody wants.”
Until, that is, a smelly local wino with a glorious patter about assorted characters, a self-described “repository of Afro-American folklore,” gives Rudy an idea. He brings a bottle down to the winos’ encampment, tape records some of their lewd, hyperbolic and passed-down braggadocio, breaks out his pimpest outfit and turns himself into one of wino Rico’s favorite characters — Dolemite.
He trots out the character and his crude, boasting couplets at a local club where he emcees shows for his pal Ben’s (Craig Robinson) soul, blues and jazz ensemble. Dolemite is an instant hit.
All Rudy needs to do is rent some recording equipment, turn a living room into a “club” for the evening so he can record a “party record” of the type that made Redd Foxx famous. Maybe his aunt (Luenell) can pay for it with “all that money you made when you fell off that bus.”
Rudy’s doubting pals (Robinson, Mike Epps, Burgess) become believers and the world, or at least the purveyors of underground, off-color “party records” and then the famed Chitlin’ Curcuit, where black talent had its chance to shine in segregated American entertainment, becomes Rudy’s oyster.
Proving his friends, club owners and record company executives wrong was just Rudy’s first act. A Christmas Day trip to sit with elderly white folks roaring with laughter at the early ’70s remake of “The Front Page” — while he and his friends sit stone-faced, wondering what the hell these rubes find so funny, a movie with “No t—ies, no funny, no kung-fu?” — gives him one last big idea.
His next impossible leap is to the big screen where “I can be EVERYwhere at once!”
No, he’s “no Billy Dee Williams,” but he rooks a serious-minded social justice theater type (Keegan-Michael Key) to help cook up a story, and a pretentious veteran of bit parts in studio pictures and “sidekick” roles in “Black Caesar” and other blaxploitation pictures (Wesley Snipes) to come on board as a co-star and director.
Rudy gambles everything on a “Dolemite” movie back in the days before cheap cell-phone filmmaking, running up against “No thanks” every step of the way.
As foul-mouthed and politically-incorrect (era appropriate) as “Dolemite is My Name” is, it is a classic Hollywood feel-good movie, a sentimental tale of an underdog overcoming obstacle after obstacle to follow his bliss.
A lovely touch, a gaggle of UCLA film students (white) show up as “crew,” and do filmmaker-in-training magic to let the amateurs struggling with even the most rudimentary requirements to make a movie (acquiring “film,” remaking an abandoned hotel into the sets they need, stealing electricity) realize their dream.
If you’ve ever been on a film set when a problem arises, you’ve heard the problem-about-to-be-solved phrase. “I’m on it.” Murphy beams as if the trust fund kid film student “cavalry” has arrived. Little moments like this tickle throughout the “film” part of “Dolemite.”
Snipes is gloriously imperious as D’Urville Martin, Da’Vine Joy Randolph brings warmth and bawdy wit to Rudy’s comedy protege, Lady Reed, Chris Rock and Bob Odenkirk take on chewy cameos.
There are anachronisms, here and there. And truth be told, the picture slows down to a crawl during the sagging later acts.
But feeling good and finding laughs is what this is all about, and Murphy & Co. inject joy into the damnedest places — the pornographic album cover shoots for Rudy’s records, the anger that drove Rudy away from poverty in Arkansas and his first awful critic — his step-dad — anger channeled by his openly contemptuous director, Martin.
The fact that it’s a Hollywood story, replicated just a handful of times through movie history, a lone print of an “I spent everything on this” movie finding success — “A Fistful of Dollars,” “Night of the Living Dead” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Deep Throat” followed similar paths — just makes this that much more mutha-f—–g adorable.
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Mike Epps, Titus Burgess and Chris Rock
Credits: Directed by Craig Brewer, script by Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:58