Dolemite is My Name, directed by Craig Brewer, is an infectiously fun love letter to the blaxploitation genre of action cinema that reached its heights in the 1970’s. Thanks to a brisk script and a career-best performance from star Eddie Murphy, this manages to be a hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt showbiz biopic.
The film tells the story of Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who desperately wants to make a big break, as he decides to bring his signature character to the big screen in a blaxploitation action-comedy. Although one doesn’t need to be familiar with Dolemite to appreciate what is happening in the movie, those who are fans of Moore’s film and the blaxploitation genre will likely delight in all of the references that the movie includes.
That said, the film’s balance of humorous and heartwarming moments is more than strong enough for the movie to be a good time. Since Moore was, first and foremost, a comedian, there are plenty of hilarious sequences featuring Murphy recreating some of Moore’s most iconic bits. These scenes are the most impressive in the film, as they allow Murphy to recapture some of the magic that made Moore so iconic in the first place.
While one would expect that Moore’s experiences making Dolemite would be the most interesting part of the story, his journey of trying to become a stand-up comedian is actually more compelling. The central portion of the movie, showing the making of Dolemite, is surprisingly the portion of the film that drags, likely because this is the portion that leans most heavily into formula.
However, the movie’s excellent characterization of Moore goes a long way in making the film more compelling. Because the movie is able to draw the audience into Moore’s world and emphasizes the relatability of his ambitions, it is easy to feel joy for him when he succeeds and pain when he reaches a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Even though the outcome of the story is obvious, the arc is compelling because of the way in which the character is written.
Murphy’s performance is definitely the highlight of the film. Allowing him to tap into both his comedic genius and his dramatic range, this movie features Murphy at his best since Dreamgirls. The supporting cast also features memorable turns from actors such as Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Keegan Michael-Key, Mike Epps, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, but Murphy very much commands the spotlight every time he is on screen.
The visuals of the film are also quite strong, doing an excellent job of giving the movie an immersive tone that will transport the audience back to the 1970’s in which the film is set. The cinematography and production design are both spot-on, and the soundtrack features plenty of references to the memorable music from Dolemite.
Despite the fact that it is conventional at times, Dolemite is My Name is thoroughly enjoyable due to a great cast, tons of humor, and inspired direction from Craig Brewer. It seems as if Murphy has been waiting for the right project to make his return, and this seems to be it.
Dolemite is My Name is now playing in theaters and hits Netflix on October 18.