Eddie Murphy finds comedy and pathos in this Blaxploitation biopic

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Dolemite Is My Name
Netflix (Starts Oct. 25)

3 out of 5

Odds are most of the reviews of Dolemite Is My Name will include the tried-and-true line “return to form” to describe star Eddie Murphy. This is both accurate, and an oversimplification. For the best part of a decade, Murphy hasn’t been that active, so it’s not like he’s been in a bunch of bombs.

The hyperbole also fails to describe Dolemite Is My Name properly. It’s not a great film — more on par with one of Murphy’s lesser known hits Bowfinger (1999). Fun, but forgettable.

Dolemite Is My Name is based on the true-life story of Rudy Ray Moore, the godfather of rap and Blaxploitation icon. Moore started as a hard-luck performer who earned the tag Harlem Hillbilly for singing country songs r&b style. Later, he worked clubs reciting raunchy limericks (inspired by the idea of “playing the Dozens”) about pimps, prostitutes and hustlers before becoming aware of the next shiny thing: film.

Without knowing a lick about filmmaking, Moore bet the farm on a movie containing all his obsessions: comedy, kung-fu, profanity and resisting authority.

Moore couldn’t afford a professional crew, so he went with film students. That should resonate with anyone who’s dabbled in independent cinema, and it’s the main source of laughs in the film. As actor-turned-director D’Urville Martin, Wesley Snipes reminds us why we once paid first-run ticket prices to see him in theatres.

While Dolemite Is My Name is indisputably a comedy, Eddie Murphy and director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) keep the story grounded in reality. This reins in the laughs a bit, but makes the characters more relatable. Rudy Ray Moore is scrappy, and not without talent. But his permanent dissatisfaction prevents him from enjoying his success. Mind you, who wouldn’t have a chip on their shoulder in his circumstances?

In the hands of Brewer and Murphy, Moore is depicted as coarse, but lovable — and not terribly progressive on the treatment of women. But then, that’s period accurate.