Blaxploitation is a subgenre that took prominence in the 1970s. There was a wave of black filmmakers and actors scraping together all of their resources to make films that they wanted to make, and if they got lucky, people would get to see it. Blaxploitation didn’t get very far from its original years at the end of the 1970s, but its staples inspired numerous filmmakers to follow. Quentin Tarantino making Jackie Brown with one of the queens of Blaxploitation (Pam Grier, known for her titular role in Foxy Brown) led to the genre coming back into the light, with a remake/sequel of Shaft, one of the originals of the movement, following soon after. Dolemite is My Name, a biopic centered on comedy and Blaxploitation legend Rudy Ray Moore, arguably brings this resurgence full circle.
Following Ed Wood and Man on the Moon, writer duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski return to their wheelhouse of bringing true stories of filmmakers to life, although the actual filming of Dolemite doesn’t come for quite some time. What I didn’t know about Moore was his prominent career in standup, creating the rhyming, rap predecessor that is Dolemite as a character for his performances. Moore faced opposition from record companies due to the vulgar nature of his performance, and the movie doesn’t hold anything back there. This is where I should get into the lead performance of Eddie Murphy, who is absolutely immaculate. With Rudy Ray Moore’s history as an actor, it’s easy to watch some of his films and notice what Murphy elected not to mimic. For one, Moore has a much deeper voice than Murphy, and the film even dares to pull the curtain back by showing real clips from Dolemite just before the credits roll. However, Murphy puts so much into the character when it comes to Moore’s manner of speaking and how he carries himself. Plus, you can tell that Murphy is just having so much fun. The same goes for Wesley Snipes, making a welcome appearance as artsy-fartsy Dolemite director D’Urville Martin. The rest of the cast never pales in comparison with Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson and Kodi Smit-McPhee all putting in wonderful work. The standout of the supporting cast has to be Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who shares a lot of screen time with Murphy in which they both bounce off of each other perfectly.
The film is not without its issues, however. The film clocks in at just under two hours, but if you aren’t immediately charmed by Murphy’s performance, as I was, the film takes a bit to really get to what was promised. We spend the first act getting to know Moore and learning about his place in the world. We see his standup floundering before the creation of the Dolemite character brings him a decent helping of success which allowed him to fund the film. It’s about forty minutes in, however, when the making of the film finally comes into play, and most of what comes after is comedic gold. The film can also feel very easygoing and schmaltzy, so if you were expecting a harrowing drama about what it takes to make a film when you’re starting from the bottom, you’re not exactly going to find that here. Dolemite is My Name is more concerned with pleasing a crowd than being a film with any kind of grit, but it’s made all the better for it. When the quieter or angrier moments do come, they are indeed more impactful thanks to the adoption of a lighter tone for everything else. The ending, however, threatens to overdose on schmaltz. While the film does end on an incredibly high note for the characters that’s admittedly satisfying, the final few minutes do tread the line on overindulgence and could go way over it for some.
Even if a film like this is probably perfect for a Netflix release, I fear that it will be forgotten when awards season finally kicks in. Which is sad, since this is a film clearly made by people who love this very specific part of Hollywood history. Hopefully with the right push, Dolemite is My Name will dominate this season. I found myself smiling the whole way through, and it’s definitely the best straightforward crowd-pleaser that we’ll probably get this year. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself saying “…and f***in’ up mothaf***ckas is my game!” right along with it.
A- Review 2019 blaxploitation craig brewer craig robinson davine joy randolph dolemite is my name durville martin ed wood eddie murphy foxy brown jackie brown kodi smit mcphee larry karaszewski man on the moon pam grier quentin tarantino rudy ray moore ruth e carter scott alexander shaft wesley snipes