Dolemite is My Name focuses on inspirational comedian Rudy Ray Moore (played by Eddie Murphy) and his stage character: a whitty, foul-mouthed pimp named Dolemite. The film covers Moore’s small beginnings as a failed singer, his rise to the top as his raunchy stage persona, the friendship he develops with his protégée Lady Reed, and the long, amusing process behind the creation of his successful blaxploitation film Dolemite – as well as the hardship that comes with trying to find distribution for the unconventional movie.
Before discussing this film, it is important to talk about the pacing. Though there are many things to praise about Dolemite is My Name, the story’s structure leaves something to be desired. Rather than following a clear three-act structure, Dolemite is a bit jumbled in the way it unfolds. Most of the plot focuses on the production behind Dolemite, yet this isn’t introduced until almost half-way into the film. This makes everything before it, such as the start-up of Moore’s comedy career, feel like unnecessary filler. What would’ve been better is if the plot began with characters filming Dolemite, and then nonlinearly explained how Moore achieved his comedy success through exposition, dialogue, or even flashbacks.
That said, Dolemite is My Name is still a very likable movie. One of it’s main qualities is that it’s genuinely funny. Though the plot focuses on an incredibly raunchy and adult comedian, there is still a variety of humor types – especially dry humor, which it’s talented cast handles very well. Even if crude comedy isn’t your style, viewers will still develop an appreciation for the cleverness behind Dolemite’s rants. The movie exemplifies how much energy, whit, and courage was required for such a bold performance from Moore, showing the process behind his development of the Dolemite character and the constant enthusiasm he’s always required to have.
Murphy does a wonderful job playing the iconic comedian. Naturally, he plays his stand-up scenes with the vigor and crassness that’s typically expected from the famed comedian in his prime. However, Murphy shows true skill when he portrays how Moore is off-stage. Rather than being a bold, offensive pimp, the real Randy Ray Moore is a surprisingly straight-laced, simple, and hopeful man. He even begins the movie rejecting cursing in comedy, finding it too offensive. Murphy portrays this with self-control and authenticity, showing a sympathetic and regular person that the everyday-man can relate to.
However, the film’s true show-stealer is Wesley Snipes as real-life actor D’Urville Martin. Known for playing the steely and bad-ass Blade in the eponymous Marvel film trilogy, Snipes instead portrays a stuffy and exceedingly humorous prima-donna who reluctantly directs Dolemite. He’s almost unrecognizable in the movie, his clothes and even his mannerisms feeling effeminate and uptight – the antithesis of Snipes’ previous acting roles. Snipes offers the film’s best instances of dry-humor, giving audiences less interested in the more raunchy stuff a chance to laugh at something. With a memorable exit that unfortunately happens early in the film, viewers will be sad to see him go.
In general, all the characters are very likable. The cast does a fantastic job of giving each of their characters personality and making them highly memorable. There are some well-known faces that watchers will recognize, such as Keegan-Michael Key (from Comedy Central sketch’s series Key & Peele) and Craig Robinson (played Darryl Philbin on The Office). Da’Vine Joy Randolph, though not as renowned of an actress, gives a noticeable performance as Lady Reed, a single mother who Moore forms an endearing friendship with.
Visually the film is incredibly well-done, its excellent cinematography representing the bold, disco color palette of the 70’s era. Less noticeably, visuals are also used to subtly reference to the divide between people of color and Caucasians. While black characters are often filmed at night in darker, shadowed lighting but with deeply colored surroundings, white characters (particularly those at a corporate level) appear in bright, minimalist, and desaturated environments. This represents the movie’s overall message about the divisiveness between black and white comedy — the latter being far more censored, “clean”, and family-friendly.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Dolemite is My Name is a rather light-hearted film, not having much to offer about race relations in America at the time, Hollywood business, or really any particularly deep message. However, it still offers rousing entertainment and an amusing depiction of Moore’s life, all enhanced by the talented cast who give the film its heart and soul. This is definitely the comeback performance Eddie Murphy needed.