Dolemite Is My Name ★★★★★

Within the first scene, Eddie Murphy, playing Rudy Ray Moore, calls Snoop Dogg, playing a deejay at a record store, a "rat-soup eating mother fucker" and I knew that I was in good hands. I have only seen one film from Rudy Ray Moore, but this simple dialogue exchange was enough to convince me that the people involved in this movie had done their homework and knew what they were doing.

"Dolemite Is My Name" is the story of Moore, a man who kept trying and trying to break through in show business despite setback after setback. He had come to Hollywood to be the next Sammy Davis Jr., had traveled the country doing a vaudeville act and trying to be a singer. But as we meet him in this movie, he is working at a record store where he can't even get his records played by the afore-mentioned deejay. He's working a mic at a local night club introducing music acts and is only given five minutes to do his own thing. He's still trying, but one gets the sense that it's harder and harder for him to keep at it, to keep plugging away despite the apathy and disinterest of everyone toward his ambitions.

But he appropriates some stories told by a local wino, makes them his own, and tries out a new persona one night at the night club and BAM! Dolemite is born, and the success that has eluded Moore his whole life suddenly seems like it might be within his grasp at long last.

Eddie Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore with infectious energy, passion, and obvious affection. I've always been an Eddie Murphy fan, as far back as I can remember (when I was growing up, "Beverly Hills Cop", "Trading Places" and "Coming to America" were in heavy rotation in out family's VCR) and I've continued rooting for Eddie despite the dry periods. I've watched the lesser Murphy films and still gotten some amusement out of them (I was one of the five people who saw "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" in the theater, for instance) but I've always hoped that he would come roaring back with a vehicle that made full use of his great talents. I had high hopes for "Dolemite is My Name" when I first heard about it, and I was anxiously anticipating it all year. And I am delighted to report that the movie did not disappoint, not in the least. Seeing Eddie curse and rant again, seeing him headline a movie made for grown-ups after the years of family-friendly nonsense, was a revelation. It was a tonic for my soul and an affirmation of my love for this man. Every "motherfucker" he drops here was not only perfect to convey the legend of Rudy Ray Moore, but absolute music to my ears. I was in something close to bliss while watching this movie, and not just because Eddie is finally doing a movie for grown-ups, but because he finally gets a role that lets him demonstrate every ounce of his talent, a role containing multitudes and facets and complexities. He's a dreamer and a loser and a man who succeeds on the sheer strength of his will to succeed, to make himself famous, and Eddie shines in that role. He makes a meal of it. He better get a motherfucking Oscar nomination and, this time, I'd love to see him win. The role of Rudy Ray Moore takes everything that Eddie has ever done onscreen, combines it, and enriches it. There's tons of humor, genuine pathos, desperation and a nearly palpable ache and longing within Moore as Eddie portrays him.

It's rare to see a movie that's both filthy and heartwarming, but both of those describe the greatness of "Dolemite Is My Name". It's a life-affirming, feel-good story about following your dreams and believing in your self and shaking off setbacks. It's also a hilarious story of an insane film production that made me laugh harder and longer and louder than anything else I've seen this year. Not only does Eddie amaze and delight here, but the direction is phenomenal. It lingers enough for us to feel the atmosphere and vibe of every moment, but is propulsive enough that I felt as though I were on a roller coaster ride. Craig Brewer does exceptional work here. So do screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. They craft a strong foundation, which the actors and director and crew elaborate masterfully upon. But you get the sense that it's all there on the page, merely amplified and enlivened by every other aspect.

But it bears repeating that this cast is great. Keegan Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Tituss Burgess, Da'Vine Joy Randolph (particularly great) and especially Wesley Snipes are all wonderful here. Like Murphy, though, Wesley Snipes seems to be relishing having a role this meaty and complex and downright hilarious to sink his teeth into. This is the best I've seen him in twenty years (or, at least since "Blade 2") and he, too, is worthy of an Oscar nom.

"Dolemite Is My Name" is a winner on every level. It tells a story that you can't believe is true with great performances across the board, sequences that are absolutely gut-busting, it's quotable as all hell, funky and cool and endearing and sweet and exuberant and wild and uplifting and brilliant. It even gave me a new appreciation for "Dolemite" as a film. Even without knowing any of its back-story, I could tell that "Dolemite", shaky and flawed as it was, was an obvious labor of love brought to life through passion and tenacity. "Dolemite Is My Name" confirms that...and then some.

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