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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Did you not just hand over a chicken to someone?

The Father (2020) (SPOILERS) I was in no great rush to see The Father , expecting it to be it to be something of an ordeal in the manner of that lavishly overpraised euthanasia-fest Amour. As with the previous Oscars, though, the Best Picture nominee I saw last turned out to be the best of the bunch. In that case, Parasite , its very title beckoning the psychic global warfare sprouting shoots around it, would win the top prize. The Father , in a year of disappointing nominees, had to settle for Best Actor. Ant’s good, naturally, but I was most impressed with the unpandering manner in which Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton approached material that might easily render one highly unstuck.