Eddie Murphy is Hilarious and Inspiring As the Badassss Rudy Ray Moore
“I ain’t got nuthin’ nobody wants.” So goes the life of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), faded R&B singer, failed comedian, and paunchy L.A. record-store employee. He’s thirsty for fame, but the DJs and nightclub owners aren’t interested. Who cares about a fortysomething never-was?
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Craig Brewer
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Wesley Snipes
Running time: 118 min
Moore cares, and he won’t let it go. He’s relentlessly optimistic, but his desperation is palpable. Money’s tight. Options are running out. And then inspiration strikes. A local vagrant staggers into the record store, panhandling and spouting jive talk about the hyper-exaggerated exploits of a cat named Dolemite. Suddenly Moore’s eyes light up. And a late-night bullshitting session with the local bums turns into a goldmine of raw material.
“Dolemite is my name, and fucking up muthafuckers is my game!” announces Moore the next time he shows up for his steady MC gig at a local club. Except, this time, he’s dressed like a cartoon pimp, right down to the whipping cane. “I was walking through the jungle with my dick in my hand,” he struts. “I was the baddest motherfucker in the jungle land.” The routine is a cascade of outrageous rhyming insults. His bloviating braggadocio is an instant sensation.
Moore’s alter ego takes off, as does Moore’s ambition. A comedy album! No record company wants to touch it. So he’ll borrow the money and record it himself. Why the fuck not? He gets a sound engineer, coaxes a bunch of friends to be an eager audience, and transforms his living room into an ad hoc cocktail lounge. The cover art is outrageous. It’s Moore himself, nude, artfully positioned behind a settee with a naked woman. The title is even more lewd: Eat Out More Often.
And once Moore goes from selling albums out of his car trunk to an actual record deal with national distribution, he sets his DIY sights on movies. Why? Because the films he sees are awful. “It’s got no titties or kung fu,” he complains. “You can’t will yourself into being a movie star,” chortles a naysayer. Just you wait and see.
So goes Moore’s improbable climb in Dolemite Is My Name, Craig Brewer’s adoring ode to go-with-your-gut passion projects. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, authors of quirky ’90s biopics like Ed Wood and Man in the Moon, Dolemite revels in their favorite recurring subject: determined oddballs who can bend the world to their will.
It’s the Disaster Artist meets Baadasssss meets Bowfinger. It’s guerilla entertainment by any means necessary. And, yes, Ed Wood also depicts incompetents making threadbare productions on a shoestring budget. But Dolemite has a wider range of emotions, with a protagonist at its center whose lowbrow convictions have a communal uplift.
Dolemite is clearly a labor of love, and Murphy’s total commitment to the midlife-crisis comedian is what makes the film so endearing. He doesn’t need to make this movie. A biopic about Rudy Ray Moore is not what focus groups demand. Nobody is clamoring to see the story of Dolemite. But here it is. And here’s Murphy having the time of his life. And that type of seemingly misguided but incredibly potent affection is evident in every frame. It’s a mutha-fuckin’ gas.