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Dolemite Is My Name ***

It’s dramatically uneven, but Eddie Murphy is terrific in a role he seems born to play. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

If ever there was a role Eddie Murphy was born to play, it’s Rudy Ray Moore. Talented, loud and brash, Moore was a forerunner of Murphy’s comedic brand, and in “Dolemite Is My Name” Moore’s larger-than-life persona allows Murphy to do what he does best: curse, crack jokes, and make us laugh. The fact that Murphy gets us to care for Moore as well is an added and significant bonus.

Moore was an African-American comedian, actor, singer and filmmaker. After struggling to get his career going in the 1960s, he works in a record store in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. He hates it, and believes he’s destined for something greater. One day a homeless man named Rico starts telling old slave jokes, and Moore keys into the content and cadence. He records Rico and friends telling stories, then creates a character named “Dolemite,” a pimp with personality to spare. The content is vulgar, oddly poetic, and loved by African-American hipsters. He makes records of his routines, and does well selling the records out of his trunk and touring night clubs.  

Moore, however, wants more. He risks his savings to create a blaxploitation flick based on his Dolemite character, predictably titled “Dolemite” (1975). The budget is low, and the cast and crew’s experience is next to nil, but the passion is undeniably high. At this point “Dolemite Is My Name” shifts its focus, and not necessarily for the better. As a viewer, one can’t help but wonder why we just watched Moore struggle for years to sell records only to risk his money by going into the movie business, which he knows nothing about. We’ve seen plenty of characters, both professional and inept, struggle to make movies in movies. However, we haven’t seen many Rudy Ray Moores, and making him similar to other struggling filmmakers does the wholly unique Moore an injustice.

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Thankfully, Murphy is terrific. We knew he’d be fine with the comedy, but he also handles the few dramatic moments impressively well. The filmmaking process humbles Moore (to an extent), and in doing so it forces him to truly appreciate his friends and collaborators, and what he’s accomplished. Murphy and director Craig Brewer (working from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) successfully find humanity amidst all of Moore’s hubris.

You may ask: Why isn’t Rudy Ray Moore better remembered today? One speculates it’s because the Dolemite character perpetuates a negative stereotype of African-Americans, and it was really the only character Moore was known for. In a society in which (at least some) individuals are trying to move away from racist stereotypes and toward equality, Dolemite simply isn’t a good fit.

That said, Moore’s impact is still evident in rappers and comedians today. Give “Dolemite Is My Name” a chance – it’s an opportunity to learn something new about someone who did something cool.

Did you know?
“Dolemite” (1975) is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, and is available on Netflix’s DVD service (but not Netflix streaming).

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