Rudy Ray Moore’s beginnings were meager, despite eventually ending up with his own film series and, now, a Netflix biopic starring Eddie Murphy. Known as a jack of all trades, Rudy Ray Moore performed as a comedian and a singer, though neither passion led to any acclaim. Now, he toils away his hours at a record store and as a night club master of ceremonies, setting the scene for his ambition to take hold later. Inspired by the ramblings of one of the record shop drifters, Rudy curates the legends of the near-mythic Dolemite into a stand-up act that he’s certain will jump start his entertainment career. Donning a lime-green suit and a loquacious pimp personality (not to mention some inventive swearing), Moore absolutely kills at the club. Risking every scrap of money he’s pulled together over the years to record his comedy act, Rudy puts out a risqué comedy album at a time where George Carlin’s “Seven Words” shocked and offended many. Subconsciously, Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore knowing that if brash albums like “Eat Out More Often” didn’t succeed, that he wouldn’t have had a career either.
This will never be played on-air a radio executive tell him. This won’t appeal to white listeners says another. Shocking them all (and even himself), Rudy becomes a celebrity with his Dolemite personality, but it’s still not enough to satisfy his urges. Watching Jack Lemmon in The Front Page, Rudy has an epiphany, on a gigantic silver screen, anyone can become famous–though that ignores a level of fame that is required to get on the big screen. Moore sets out to be a movie star through sheer force of will. This time, however, production costs are so high that it could mean that his comedy albums be played in perpetuity, and he’ll never see a dime. By Rudy taking that leap and hoping that Black audiences would support him, he paved the way for other blaxploitation icons to thrive.
Rudy operates under the mantra that a film only requires three items: “titties, action, and kung-fu.” So he teams up with Jerry Jones (Keegan Michael-Key) to write and D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to direct the film. As anticipated, a bunch of amateurs making a film is highly entertaining. In that regard, Dolemite Is My Name feels like a spiritual sequel to Bowfinger, but instead of Eddie Murphy playing another naive wannabe actor to a seasoned-but-down-on-his-luck producer, he’s the beleaguered man trying to get his dream off the ground. Rudy Ray Moore is the role that Eddie Murphy was born to play, and he does so superbly, leading viewers to wonder if his name will be called come Oscar season. Murphy has great affection for Moore’s bumpy road to stardom and imbues what could potentially come across as crass as heartwarming.
Craig Brewer doesn’t go in for any shots that would prove ostentatious—that would be odd for a film about people who don’t know how to make a movie making a movie—instead, he simply waits for his moment where Murphy takes the camera and runs with it. Factor in Wesley Snipes trying to steal the scene whenever he can, and Brewer doesn’t have to do much more than that. The real surprise here is actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who had parts in other features before but wasn’t allowed to let shine until Dolemite Is My Name. Competing against Murphy, Snipes, Craig Robinson, and Mike Epps and coming out on top is no easy task, and Randolph does it flawlessly.
Dolemite Is My Name is far from the first film to demonstrate how powerful representation is for a community, but it does so in a way that doesn’t sermonize. In a quiet confession that highlights the vulnerability that Murphy does so well, Moore confesses that “I want the world to know I exist!” It’s not just an issue of ego for Rudy, but a reminder of how empowering it is to see someone like you on screen. That the film is also one of the funniest comedies that 2019 has to offer certainly helps. Dolemite is also a welcome reminder that the manic energy and masterful comic timing that made Eddie Murphy a superstar isn’t gone; it was just dulled by lackluster sequels to major Hollywood I.P.s that didn’t challenge the man. Playing the multi-hyphenate comedian/actor/producer inspires Murphy to give it his all.