Early reviews for Netflix’s DOLEMITE IS MY NAME have been proclaiming that “Eddie Murphy hasn’t been this good since Dreamgirls.” I want to go a little bit further than that and say, I don’t think Eddie Murphy has been this good since the 70’s/80’s and is now my second favorite performance from him, other than his multiple ones in The Nutty Professor. He really is back, actually looking like he gives a shit about this film. As well he should, because his performance isn’t the only great thing about it, as the story about Rudy Ray Moore, a black comedian who is known for being the pioneer of very crude and crass sexually explicit humor, and his rise up as a comedian and then breaking into the film industry. While the movie is pretty standard as far biopics go, the script is elevated by some snappy dialogue, showing in-depth some of the blaxploitation filmmaking process and having a good representation of what the culture was like in that industry in the mid 70s. Plus, the movie is pretty fucking hilarious and marks a turning point for Netflix for me, I’m just about ready to start taking the platform seriously (original film wise).
Know that I am not really familiar with Rudy Ray Moore or any of his films. The only little tidbits I know about him is from reading about him on Wikipedia and watching Red Letter Media’s Best Of The Worst Episode that featured his blaxploitation film Petey Wheatstraw, which doesn’t have anything to do with the Dolemite character, a kung foo fighting pimp. This movie, while the first 1/3rd is about Rudy Ray Moore’s rise in comedy, the second half is about the making of his famous “so bad it’s good” film, Dolemite. The movie’s narrative has the same structural blueprint as The Disaster Artist and Ed Wood, two other films that are about the making of the “so bad it’s good” pictures The Room and Plan 9 From Outer Space. It feels more like Ed Wood than James Franco’s recent film, and that is no surprise, as this movie was written by the that films writers. Ed Wood (arguably Tim Burton’s last great film) is not just about the making of one of the worst films of all time, but more about the man himself. Same here. The making of the movie is just gorgeous background decorations, focusing on Moore’s time, money, and effort just to get the film to a wide audience.
And while Eddie Murphy doesn’t look at all like Rudy Ray Moore, he captures his spirit flawlessly (from real clips of Moore that I’ve seen), and he looks like he is having a fucking blast making the movie. This is the Eddie Murphy we all know and love, he shouts his lines, has that quick and snappy talk, and energetic pep in his step. I just hope he keeps the momentum going. I just wish he wasn’t doing sequels to Coming To America or Beverly Hills Cop next, as I think he has the potential to soar in more original tales and material such as this. Leave Prince Akeem and Axel Foley be Eddie, please (especially that Coming To America 2 is going to be PG-13…). This movie is a VERY, VERY HARD R, f bombs out the fucking wazoo, sex jokes, and full frontal nudity. In fact, one could say that the best and funniest scene in the entire thing is the making of the sex scene in the Dolemite movie. I know that Eddie Murphy now looks back at his stand up from films like Raw and realizes that kind of comedy doesn’t work anymore, but if this films shows us anything, he has maybe tapped into a way around that, still being himself, but not as trigger happy, triggering this pathetic butthurt culture we have going on now (yeah that’s right, I said it).
Rudy Ray Moore’s films I believe were a little more successful and praised than the other good-bad films I mentioned above. It felt like his always had something a little bit more to say. And it is also the quiet moments in this that truly make the film soar, whenever Moore is struggling to come up with money to finish the film, or getting the film into theaters so a wide audience can enjoy them. If there was any scene that could actually garner Murphy another Oscar nomination, it would be at the very end of the film, where he interacts with a small fan, and a crowd outside of a theater, having to wait till 2 am to see his movie. The movie itself gets the feel of the mid 70s pretty much dead on, and look of it pays a good tribute to blaxploitation films’ lighting and color. I have a feeling a lot is owed to the director, Craig Brewer, who easily gives us his best film since Hustle & Flow. It is definitely more interestingly and steadily shot than the last film about the making of a bad movie, The Disaster Artist, where it felt like James Franco liked the shaky cam a little too fucking much.
If you don’t want to go out to the movies this weekend, and want something pretty good to watch at home, I highly recommend Dolemite Is My Name. Just under two hours (it doesn’t feel that length), the movie is endlessly entertaining, hilarious, and even has heart. With this, El Camino, and from what I hear, the upcoming Marriage Story and The Irishman, Netflix is starting to look like it is finally going to take itself seriously, instead of just giving us shit films that have mostly filled up the top half of my worst list of early 2019. And with the streaming wars coming very, very soon, maybe it realized it had to (although if they announce a sequel to Sextuplets anytime soon any hope I had for them will quickly be squandered). Maybe one year we’ll be looking at a Oscar nomination list completely dominated by steaming platform films? If you scoffed at that question, you should really do your research and see that it probably isn’t just a possibility, and that there is even evidence that it may come sooner than you think. If that happens, the tail end of this year will be known as the real first change in Netflix’s fate, with Dolemite Is My Name being one of the films in that conversation. Eddie Murphy’s back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!