Skip to main content

It’s a comedy and it's sex and it's action. It’s a total entertainment experience.

Dolemite Is My Name
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Eddie Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore biopic, charting Moore’s rise to fame in Ed-Wood-who-could blaxpoitation movie Dolemite is breezy and enjoyable, brimming with performers clearly having a very good time and overseen by director Craig Brewer with an easy zest that bodes well for the forthcoming Coming 2 America. It’s the best thing Murphy’s done in years. But still, it never feels quite as turbo-charged or uproarious as it promises to be.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have past form in the unlikely biopic stakes, some top of the heap (Ed Wood) others more commonly nearly but not quite there (The People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Big Eyes). Dolemite Is My Name is definitely in the latter category, even though it shares with Ed Wood an enthusiasm for the enthusiast who rises above the “so-bad-its-good” nature of their “art”; it’s that kernel of self-belief that rings through for both. In Moore’s case that infectious flair is embodied by Murphy with such verve that it’s very easy to watch Dolemite Is My Name and just take in his gleeful performance, not caring too much that the movie isn’t enormously funny (it is great fun, however) and doesn’t have a great deal of narrative drive (scenes tend to happen one after another, and Alexander and Karaszewski haven’t really cracked the story beyond “Moore becomes famous”).

But you can get away with a lot if you repeat “Rat soup eatin' motherfucker” enough times. Brewer’s rendition of the early ‘70s is very much in the broad tradition of a faux-period comedy, with the pristine hair appliances, big collars and flares, rather than attempting to muster the seedy, run-down quality of the movie that inspired it. It’s also peppered with era-appropriate references to the likes of Bill Cosby and Billy Dee Williams, and at one point, Moore takes his entourage to see Billy Wilder’s remake of The Front Page, over the likes of Shaft, to collective disappointment (“Nobody even got naked”).

Ostensibly, Moore has rather let everything pass him by at the start of the picture, MC-ing in a club but not making it himself (“Hey, man. How’d my life get so damn small?”) But when he’s inspired to make a movie out of the Dolemite character, everything falls into place rather too effortlessly, even as we’re told of the challenges he faces (“Well, you understand, you’re not supposed to make a movie for the five square blocks of people you know”). He finds his director in actor D’Urville Martin (major credit: lift operator in Rosemary’s Baby), and even though the latter’s initial enthusiasm (“This is cinemagical reality”) and interest in the plot issues (“Wardens don’t investigate!”) quickly turn to disdain/disinterest, the home-made promotional element of the picture ensures that the single theatre it’s showing in soon attracts the attention of an actual distributor (Bob Odenkirk).

And when Dolemite gets that broader release and begins attracting reviews, even these can’t bring Moore down. “Perfect!” he exclaims of a verdict pronouncing “Dolemite isn’t fit for a blind dog to see. It is coarse, crude, rude and vulgar”. Murphy’s ably supported by Keegan-Michael Key (as the screenwriter) and Craig Robinson, although it’s Snipes who walks off with the honours as the vainglorious director. Kodi Smith-McPhee is Josef Von Sternberg’s son and the cinematographer (if you’ve seen Dolemite, you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t one) and there are cameos from Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock.

What Dolemite Is My Name needed, I suspect, was some essential conflict or tension to sustain the laughs, as without it, it tends to the likeable but slightly too effortless. Maybe such a spur was in Alexander and Karaszewski’s original screenplay (it seems it was more a full biopic than focussing on the production of Dolemite), as there are certainly such elements in their other scripts. Dolemite Is My Name is very likeable, but most of that is down to Murphy’s relish for his role.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.