Netflix‘s raucous biopic of Rudy Ray Moore delivers on every front.
Mark your calendars: Eddie Murphy is officially back. His force-of -nature performance as the legendary Rudy Ray Moore is just one of the myriad reasons why Dolemite Is My Name feels like the best movie I’ve seen all year. While it is every bit as bombastic and edgy as its titular hero, the film also features heart and soul. It’s the complete package.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) struggles to get his self-made records on the airwaves, despite working at a record store with its own indie radio station. He also can’t seem to catch a break in his side gig as a stand-up comedian.
One night he overhears the liquor-fueled stories of a group of local homeless men, most of them featuring a legendary character named Dolemite. Taking on the persona of Dolemite and infusing it with his energy and lyricism, Moore hits the road on a journey that leads from local clubs and shady record companies, to ultimately a starring role in the most improbable cult classic movie ever made: 1975’s Dolemite.
The Human Tornado.
Eddie Murphy is phenomenal as Moore/Dolemite. He brings frenetic energy to the comedic elements of the script. He also captures the disappointment, anger, and passion that fueled Moore’s rise as a musician, comedian, actor and media star. Murphy is no stranger to playing larger-than-life characters; here he fills Moore’s eccentric shoes with not just bombast but also nuance.
No Small Parts.
Moore’s passion and drive attracted many big personalities to his orbit. The supporting cast in Dolemite Is My Name shines as bright as its star. Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson and Mike Epps give solid performances as Moore’s inner circle of collaborators. Wesley Snipes gives his best performance in decades as an aloof movie director hounded into making Moore’s quixotic feature film. Smaller roles filled by icons like Chris Rock and Snoop Dogg were delightful. Above all this stands Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s turn as Lady Reed embodies the heart of the film. As a character, Lady Reed makes explicit many of Moore’s struggles: he can’t get noticed on stage – she doesn’t believe a full figured woman like her could ever belong on the stage; he feels disrespected by the established powers – she has to literally knock a guy out who is disrespecting her; Moore feels movies don’t reflect what black audiences want to see – Reed tells him that she’s never even seen anyone who looks like her on a screen.
Randolph brings Reed to life as more than just a symbol of everything Moore is fighting for. Lady Reed feels immediate and real every time she is on screen. Murphy and Randolph have an electric rapport and their characters illuminate each other throughout the story.
The Dolemite Explosion.
During the tidal wave of 90’s rap music, I got intrigued by the repeated references to the character Dolemite. I eventually tracked down the film and it blew my mind. While it is certainly amateurish, it was also a powder keg of energy and passion and artistic bravery. I couldn’t believe a film like that could get made, and awed that Rudy Ray Moore essentially willed it into existence by sheer effort.
Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name captures that sensation I felt watching Moore’s cinematic experiment, and deepens it with a poignant and funny character study. Dolemite is a cult legend; Dolemite Is My Name does justice to that legend.