It's been a very long time since we've seen Eddie Murphy at his best on the big screen. When firing on all cylinders, there is nobody quite like him in the business and, at long last, we have the legendary comedian back in a big way with his best performance, and movie, in years with Dolemite Is My Name!. Thanks to director Craig Brewer's perfect understanding of the material, they manage to brilliantly capture legendary comedian and filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore in a wildly entertaining and wholly satisfying movie.
A Netflix original movie, Dolemite Is My Name centers on floundering comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) who has suffered a string of defeats in showbusiness. After hitting rock bottom, Moore has an epiphany that changes the course of his career; step onstage as someone else. Moore uses street mythology of 1970s Los Angeles to come up with the persona of Dolemite, a pimp with a cane and an unending supply of filthy fables. After having some success selling comedy albums, Moore begins to dream big and convinces a local playwright to pen a Dolemite movie. Incorporating kung fu, car chases and other disparate elements that don't seem to go together, Moore must overcome countless production troubles to achieve his dream of bringing Dolemite to the silver screen.
Many people who watch this movie may not be familiar with Rudy Ray Moore or the Dolemite movies. I must admit, only tangentially was I familiar with the pioneer of the Blaxploitation era. But the power of this movie is that it truly paints a picture of the man and why his legacy has endured over the decades. Moore was a dreamer with big dreams and a chip on his shoulder who wouldn't take no for an answer. He was going to be a star and he was going to do it on his own terms. That makes for very rich source material that ultimately translates to a compelling and downright inspiring story that unfolds during this movie's incredibly brisk 118-minute runtime. This thing sails by. It oozes charisma, while providing a laugh-a-minute ride, centered on a truly fine ensemble cast.
There are so many universal themes being explored here and Craig Brewer, the man behind Hustle & Flow, is the perfect man to bring these themes to life through these lovable characters. Everyone has felt like a delusional dreamer at times. Rudy Ray Moore was that, dialed to eleven. We've all felt desperate at times, like there was no way out. This movie shows us that desperation can sometimes lead to brilliance. When, instead of giving up, we get creative. It's the perfect fake-it-till-you-make-it tale.
As witnessed at Fantastic Fest, a pitch-perfect ensemble has been assembled to elevate this material. Aside from Eddie Murphy, we've got a murderer's row of entertaining folks on their A-game such as Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Snoop Dogg and, most surprisingly, Wesley Snipes, who shines in a way he hasn't shined in some time. Da'Vine Joy Randolph gets the "put her on your radar" award. But this is Murphy's movie. Nobody could have brought this character to life the way he manages to. This is everything we've come to want from Murphy over the years. It's bombastic at times, loud, hilarious and yet, totally sincere when it needs to be. For my money, this is Murphy's best work in the past 20 years, probably since the underrated Bowfinger. Oddly, that was also a movie about making a movie.
There are plenty of movies about making movies. Not coincidentally, this was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the duo who penned Ed Wood. Broad strokes, this will surely get compared to The Disaster Artist. But it's so much more than just another movie about a movie. There is so much heart at this thing's center. Everyone won't like this movie quite as much as I did, but I dare you to watch this and not walk away smiling. It's the comedic equivalent of Maximus yelling to the crowd in Gladiator, "Are you not entertained?" One thing's for sure, it's great to have Eddie Murphy back. Dolemite Is My Name arrives on Netflix streaming service on October 4.