“DOLEMITE IS MY NAME”: “And f**king motherf**kers is my game”

Eddy Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore“DOLEMITE IS MY NAME” My rating: B- (Debuts Oct. 25 on Netflix) 118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

My rating: B- (Debuts Oct. 25 on Netflix) |118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Published October 24, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene

Aside from setting a cinema record for the number of times “motherf**cker” and its variants are uttered, “Dolemite Is My Name” reminds us of why Eddie Murphy remains one of our comedy treasures.

Murphy slips effortlessly into the skin of Rudy Ray Moore, the struggling singer who in the early ’70s reinvented himself with a series of gleefully lewd party albums, then transferred his alter ego “Dolemite” onto the big screen at the height of the blaxploitation craze.

That said, this comedic slice of entertainment history from director Craig Brewer– a white guy whose Afro-centric films include “Hustle and Flow” and “Blacksnake Moan” —  is so slow out of the gate that more than few viewers will be tempted to bail before the picture hits its stride.

In the waning days of the 1960s the middle-aged Rudy Ray, pot-bellied and jowly, managers a record store and desperately tries to peddle his r&b/funk recordings.  His career is going nowhere (and at this point neither is this movie).

Then Rudy Ray latches onto a vociferous homeless guy (Ron Cephas Jones of TV’s “This Is Us”) who in exchange for a pint or two regales him with tales of the comedic folk hero Dolemite, a sort of ghetto Br’er Rabbit who bombastically outsmarts, outfights and outscrews any and all who get in his way.

Moore develops a comedy act in which he dons Afro wig and colorful pimp regalia to portray Dolemite, telling his self-serving stories in rhymed raps of pyrotechnical profanity. Black audiences go crazy for Dolemite; Rudy Ray is soon making a tour of the chitlin’ circuit, selling his LPs out of his car trunk.

Dolemite (Eddie Murphy, center) and entourage

The film only really comes to life, though, when Rudy Ray decides to gamble everything he’s earned on his cinematic debut. On the big screen he envisions Dolemite defeating the bad guys (usually white dudes) with his karate proficiency (Rudy Ray has none) and an army of punching/kicking girl sidekicks.

As he succinctly sums up his pitch:  “Car chases, explosions and titties!!!”

Fast-talking and corner-cutting, Rudy Ray makes his movie out of scraps of unexposed film left over from other productions; he takes over an abandoned Skid Row hotel (after clearing out the junkies and needles) for his soundstage.

His assembles a ragtag team portrayed by the likes of Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson and Tituss Burgess — none of whom really make much of an impression.

Faring better in that regard is Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, a  protege who leaves behind a dead end life to follow Rudy Ray; she adores him for giving a woman like her — poor, overweight, black — an opportunity to shine.

Anyway, after squeezing every penny until it groans, Rudy Ray emerges with a movie so bad it’s wildly enjoyable. The critics hated “Dolemite” but you can’t argue with the ticket sales; Rudy Ray went on to film several sequels.

“Dolomite Is My Name” absolutely nails Rudy Ray’s hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show ambition.  Even the film’s outrageous language over time becomes a sort of aural comfort food, with Murphy’s rhythmic delivery somehow rubbing off the rough edges to achieve a sort of profane poetry.

Curiously, the movie is ambivalent about Rudy Ray’s sexuality…although his comedy act presents him as the embodiment of carnal swagger, we never see him in a romantic relationship.  Indeed, Rudy Ray so fears having to shoot a sex scene that he can only get through it by turning it into a comedic set piece, with Dolemite’s heroic humping literally bringing down the house.

Clocking in at two hours, “Dolemite Is My Name” could use a good trimming to highlight the genuine comic moments and shed some indifferent material.

But there’s no arguing with Murphy’s whirlwind performance.  He’s still got the stuff.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene

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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.