Dolemite Is My Name (2019) 

I am not the intended audience for Rudy Ray Moore. I find his profanity-laced comedy juvenile and his movies a chore to sit through. So how can recreations of his act and a look into the making of his debut feature be so entertaining? The answer Eddie Murphy. In the same way that Moore willed himself to be a comedian and an actor, Murphy’s sheer force of personality demands your attention. While there are many examples of biopics crucifying much-loved comedy routines, this is the first example I can recall where the recreations elevate the act.

 

Having failed in his previous stints as a singer, a shake dancer and even a fortune teller, Rudy Ray Moore finds himself peddling records in a music store. A regular visitor is a homeless man who regales customers and annoys staff with rhyming tales of a mean motherf***er named Dolemite. Recognising an opportunity for another career path, Moore adapts the tales into a stand-up comedy routine, which he then commits to vinyl. Despite having a product that is so profane it can’t be sold or promoted via regular channels, Moore’s comedy album hits the charts. Yet this success only encourages Moore to try his hand at another career – movies.

Twenty-five years after popularising the biopic sub-genre BOSUD (Biopics Of Someone UnDeserving), screenwriting team Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski return to the familiar story of an irrepressible filmmaker who refuses to let lack of talent and finances stand in his way. Yet where Ed Wood’s head was comically always in the clouds, Murphy’s depiction of Moore is more grounded, tinged with the realisation that life may have passed him by. It is a portrayal that finally gives Murphy a suitable vehicle to showcase his talents, while also touching upon past glories (even Donkey’s waffles get a mention!).

Standing her own ground is Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed who, after a memorable introduction, gives a fully-rounded portrayal as Moore’s Chitlin' Circuit partner, film co-star and off-screen confidante. The affection shared by these two is tenderly realised. Other cast members all provide solid support, down to the white film students whose arrival on the film set is reminiscent of the alien’s entrance in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock, long-time fans of Rudy Ray Moore, appear in cameos and an uncredited Bob Odenkirk provides a succinct explanation of the economics of the Blaxploitation genre.

Only D'Urville Martin, who was a prominent figure in Blaxploitation, is ill-served by the film. Wesley Snipes’ florid portrayal of him seems to belong in another movie entirely.

1/2

"The movie was very close to the mark, and Eddie Murphy did an excellent job capturing the man and telling the story of what Rudy Ray Moore went through."

David Shabazz, author of ‘Dolemite: The Story of Rudy Ray Moore.’

Though ostensibly about the making of Rudy Ray Moore’s debut feature, this biopic also passes of a few recreations of The Human Tornado (1976) as scenes from Dolemite (1975). The original scenes from both films are shown at the end credits.

"We realized a lot of the fans' favorite scenes are from 'Human Tornado.' And we figured Rudy Ray Moore is only going to get a biopic once. So we threw in these gumdrops into the scripts."

Scott Alexander (screenwriter)

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