MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy/ Stars: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Wesley Snipes, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Chris Rock, Ron Cephas Jones, Gerald Downey, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Snoop Dogg, Bob Odenkirk/Runtime: 118 minutes
It may be depressing to start this review off so negatively, but I gotta level with you guys: with few exceptions, it really hasn’t been enjoyable whenever Eddie Murphy has popped up on the big screen the past 20 years. Actually, enjoyable isn’t the right word; more like “down right sad and/or depressing”. The reason for this is because, when Murphy was fully unleashing his comedic skill upon the world, he proved to be one of the funniest people in the comedy spectrum as not only was his stand-up fire, but he was consistently turning out movies that were deemed instant classics. Yet for the greater portion of the past 2 decades it seemed like something was seriously off. Even worse it’s not like Murphy’s talent disappeared because Thanos snapped it out of existence; rather it, plain and simply, became extremely underutilized in the movies in which he appeared.
For fans of this comedic legend however, it has long been stated that if he were given the chance to be in one legitimately great film, Eddie Murphy could proceed to wipe the slate completely clean, and in the process give us the engaging energy and charisma that led to films like Coming To America, Trading Places, and at the least the first Beverly Hills Cop to become the smash successes both critically and financially that they ultimately turned out to be. Of course, it should go without saying that this scenario is one that comes equipped with one little clause: for this to happen fans would find their patience tested to the absolute limit. Fortunately I have great news for all of you: that legitimately great film has now arrived for Eddie Murphy, and its name is Dolemite Is My Name.
Indeed with his turn here as iconic entertainer Rudy Ray Moore, a man whose work ethic should have resulted in his image being next to the word “Hustle” in the Miriam Oxford-Webster dictionary, Eddie Murphy delivers something that is not just his best performance in god knows how long, but also one of the best of his career. Yet the most surprising thing isn’t that Eddie Murphy is great in it; rather, it’s the fact that the rest of the film is just as amazing. Indeed equal parts hilarity and emotion, Dolemite Is My Name manages not only in giving Eddie Murphy’s comedic star an amazing opportunity to shine brightly once again for audiences to cherish, but in the process also threads in an amazing message about the power of believing in yourself and the power a dream can have on a person’s life as well for each and every one of us to be inspired by time and time again.
The plot is as follows: Based on the incredible story, Dolemite Is My Name is the story of Rudy Ray Moore: an aging, slightly fluffy performer who has huge aspirations, but who finds himself stuck working as an assistant manager at a record store in Los Angeles, and who, time and time again, struggles to get his music played on the radio, and is increasingly limited when it comes to his performing as the MC at a local club. It isn’t long however before Moore is inspired to create a new on-stage character by the name of Dolemite: a wig-wearing, cane-wielding, brightly-dressed, and vulgar rhyming man of the people, and, much to his surprise, audiences go absolutely crazy for it, and isn’t long before Moore is producing hit after hit album, and touring in clubs around the country. Yet for all this success, Rudy nevertheless knows that his audience is limited, and still craves the dream of being able to show his inner greatness to the entire world. So it is that after one fateful night spending time with his friends at the local cinema that Rudy realizes that what he needs to do is find a way to bring Dolemite to the big screen. So with the help of friends both old and new, Moore sets out on a truly inspiring journey to do just that: not only for himself, but for the people working with him, and for the people who maybe just maybe need a little bit of Dolemite in their lives after all….
Now to be fair Eddie Murphy is hardly the first actor to make this kind of “comeback movie” take Matthew McConaughey in Lincoln Lawyer or John Travolta in Pulp Fiction for example. Yet with that being said there is just, for whatever reason, something quite magical in seeing this comedian extraordinaire take on the role of an individual whose drive and love for what he does are simply things that we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing from Murphy in a lot of his recent projects. Indeed to that extent, it really does feel like the responsibility of playing Moore managed to reawaken that long lost Eddie Murphy magic we had all been sorely missing, and the end result is that Murphy brings his complete and total A-game to this film’s production. Indeed make no mistake dear reader; this is not a truly iconic performance from Murphy just because he sinks himself fully into the role. No this is a great performance because for the first time in a long while, whether his character is on stage delivering a set of material or, in one particularly noteworthy moment, engaging in some of the worst on-screen kung fu you’ve ever seen, Murphy is legitimately funny again, and boy does it show how much we have all been missing out on this guy’s true talent.
Yet, and much to my astonishment, Murphy’s fantastic lead turn is far from being a singular occurrence in this film however. This is because, despite Murphy being front and center, the director wisely chooses to surround the comedy legend with a stacked deck of fantastic supporting performances starting with, of all people, Wesley Snipes who, in his pitch-perfect portrayal of hyper-cynical and seemingly always intoxicated co-star/director D’Urville Martin, actually manages to do what many thought impossible and actually nearly steals the movie away from Murphy despite only being in the movie for about 45 minutes. Indeed Snipes puts on an acting clinic here as he manages to impressively fluctuate between wide-eyed with a hint of flabbergasted to straight up intoxicated and out of his mind at the outright insanity of the set that he has found himself roped into being a part of, and Snipes manages to deliver and then some. Also while they don’t really possess nearly as much in terms of driving the film’s narrative forward, we are also treated to a squad of funny yet human and relatable performances from the likes of Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Mike Epps, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Keegan-Michael Key in the roles of the people who become a part of not only Moore’s inner-circle, but also kind-of a quasi-sort of extended family as well.
Now from the perspective of someone who has grown up loving the movies, and what they can come to represent for a wide variety of people, I also think that the film serves another purpose very well. That purpose is that this is a film that does an amazing job of showcasing the unique magic and simultaneous chaos that only comes when one sets out to make a motion picture. Indeed, the story behind the making of the movie that is at the center of this film’s plot is truly one for the books. Yet when one watches the movie one never feels that this ever is a soulless or heartless affair as the amount of passion Moore and his cohorts have is nothing short of palpable. Indeed this is a film made by people who love the movies and who love the process that goes into making them, and I promise that love and enthusiasm does not wane for one single second.
All in all it really is a shame that Dolemite Is My Name is only available on Netflix for the time being, as this is a movie that is best experienced when watching it with a group that is prepared to laugh and genuinely have a good time. Indeed this is not just a true and spectacular return to form for one of the best comedians of easily the last 35 years; it is also a true love letter to the power of belief, of never giving up, and always putting your best foot forward even when the odds are stacked firmly against you. On a scale of 1-5 I give Dolemite Is My Name a solid 4 out of 5.