Dolemite Is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name ★★★★½

The talent of Eddie Murphy is no mystery. By the time he’s done he ought to considered among any Mount Rushmore you’d carve of the all-time comedic greats. Still, this felt like it came out of nowhere and just blindsides with how damn good it is, starting with Murphy’s exceptional portrayal of Rudy Ray Moore. This is the first time in a while that I’ve seen an actor actually play a real life person instead of doing an impression. Murphy not only has the mannerisms and catchphrases down, and the pudgy midsection, but he inhabits all the little details. The lurking fear of failure, the self-doubt, the bravado in the face of being scared shitless. He does everything in a way that shows that he understands what kind of dude this is, which is why Murphy’s a genius and many others are not. 

Taking the lead from their star, the performances all follow suit. Wesley Snipes is fantastic as D’Urville Martin, and the character is written well as a non traditional villain. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a great mix of tough, warm and sincere as Lady Reed, and if I cared at all about awards I’d say that this is Best Supporting Actress caliber. The support is solid throughout the rest of the cast; Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, great little cameos by Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock. Tons of comic energy and tons of heart from everyone here. 

That this was hilarious was not surprising in the least, given the subject material and the people involved. How touching this was, though, that took me aback a bit. “Believe in yourself” is the tritest of Hollywood pablum, but this movie is a group of people who come to believe absolutely in their leader, Rudy Ray Moore, who uses his Dolemite character to overcome his fear and his self-doubt. And the thing is that Rudy here is as loyal to his friends as he is foul-mouthed, which makes a great dichotomy. That’s best expressed in his friendship with Lady Reed, and the two are open-hearted and warm with each other in a way that would be schmaltzy if it weren’t played so convincingly. The energy from the cast as they first improbably finish filming Dolemite, and then see it meet with success in Black theaters across the country, it’s electric. It feels good to watch this group of people work hard at a crazy ass dream of a movie about a kung fu pimp, and to see their efforts rewarded in the best of ways. 

I ordinarily hate these terms. But this is definitely a triumphant, feel-good movie, that’s genuinely moving in quite a few parts. I’d say welcome back, Eddie Murphy, but it’s not like anyone doubted that he was ever really gone.

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