Dolemite Is My Name

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Dolemite Is My Name
"Murphy has long been underrated as an actor so it's really good to see him finally getting his teeth into something this meaty."

How can one go about telling a story about a joyfully lowbrow entertainer that engages his original fans and a more sophisticated (or more self-conscious) audience? That was the challenge facing screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski when they set out to capture the magic of blaxploitation legend Rudy Ray Moore. Few people would have suspected them to pull it off as well as they have done - but then again, nobody ever expected much of Moore.

The Arkansas-born showman, played here by Eddie Murphy, was no overnight success story, spending a good portion of his life working odd jobs, serving as a preacher and introducing other people's acts in comedy clubs before his own talent came to notice. They key, so he would later claim, was his realisation that what mattered was giving the people what they wanted. That meant bawdy humour, obscenity (by the standards of the time), and witty little rhymes (which would go on to become a major influence on the nascent rap genre). To achieve it, he adopted the persona of a pimp called Dolemite, and put all his skills and force of personality to work to promote his own records before a nervous industry, astounded by his popularity, recognised him as a potential goldmine.

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Moore's age is important here because it means that this biopic is free of the usual clich├ęs about exploited ingenus and desperate waiting for recognition. This was one star who really did do it for himself, not once but twice. Craig Brewer's film charts both his rise to fame as a recording artist and the events that followed his decision to gamble his whole fortune on turning his alter ego into a movie star.

Murphy has long been underrated as an actor, his cheesy grin and talent for making people laugh seeing him cast over and over as slightly different versions of the same shallow character, so it's really good to see him finally getting his teeth into something this meaty. He's perfectly suited to conveying Moore's brashness, persistence and charm, yet also to showing us the keen intelligence that lurked behind it all. It's really a dual role and the ease with which he slips from character to performer very much deserves the attention that it's getting from awards voters.

Though occasionally slow, the film is studded with great set pieces and makes full use of a range of comedic talents who, though well known in other contexts, have struggled to get a foothold on the big screen. This seems all the more appropriate in light of Moore's reputation as a keen talent spotter who aimed to raise up those around him. There's a good deal of crudity and (intentionally) feeble humour here but the delivery is superb and the film hits all the right notes in its tribute to the glories of cinematic trash. There's also a warmth to it that's guaranteed to leave you smiling, and a stonking soundtrack peppered with hits from the era.

Beyond what it has to say about Moore, this is a long deserved tribute to blaxploitation cinema itself. In an industry that loves to pat itself on the back, popular but low-budget genres are too often overlooked, and the largely white mainstream has been quick to dismiss the way that films like Moore's provided entertainment and a voice to sections of the population which they singularly failed to serve. Never mind the luvvie love for Hugo and The Artist - it's time to hear Dolemite roar.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2019
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The story of Rudy Ray Moore, the comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a Blaxploitation phenomenon.

Director: Craig Brewer

Writer: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Snoop Dogg

Year: 2019

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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