Directed by Craig Brewer
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Starring Eddie Murphy, Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Wesley Snipes
MPAA rating: R, for cussing, light sexing, and fake Kung Fu fighting
Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes
by Jaime Davis, The Fixer
Do you have a dream? A kind of incessant gnawing inside you to do something great or big or important or fun? To put a talent to use, or better your circumstances, explore a passion deep down? Have you had your dream repeatedly diminished, stomped on, crushed? What did you do - give up, keep going, redirect?
I originally was going to close my review with some motivational affirmations, but it’s too goddamn important, goddammit. So here we go: Hey you! Yes, I mean YOU. I just want to say - don’t give up on yourself. Yes, there are a lot of talented people in this world, but there is only one YOU. If you have something to say, or something to share, DO IT. Do it for yourself, and no one else. Get it out of you, exorcise it, and present it to the world, or at the very least, your Aunt June. Or your Grandma Pearl. Perform your stand-up at the local Taco Bell if you have to. Play your one-person acoustic opus for your cats. Whatever you gotta do, do it. Because all the couldas and wouldas and shouldas have a tendency to get bigger over time, and I’d hate to see more people roaming this earth with so many regrets. So do everyone (but mostly yourself) a favor and pick up that pen or that paintbrush or get on that computer or get back to auditioning or take a look at those online courses again and get to it, do it.
This very special episode of Moviejawn is brought to you by Dolemite Is My Name, a slick, uplifting film-within-a-film biopic that is equal parts warmth and heart and inspiration. For anyone still pushing a dream forward, it’s required viewing.
Rudy Ray Moore had a dream he wouldn’t give up on. People thought he was crazy, but Moore wouldn’t stop. By the 1970’s, the Arkansas-born Moore was living in Los Angeles and had already recorded multiple R&B songs and released a few comedy albums. His success was limited and fleeting, and even though time was not on his side, and his acquaintances had little faith, Moore didn’t quit. While working at Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store, he came in contact with a man named Rico who gave him the inspiration behind his beloved character Dolemite, which started as a comedic persona for his stand-up routine and morphed into an unconventional film hero. People responded to Moore’s flashy wardrobe and comedic rhymes paired with jazz music - his initial Dolemite stand-up performances and subsequent Dolemite albums led many to proclaim him the “godfather of rap.”
You would think Moore would stop there, but nope. He saw Dolemite as being more than just a persona for club gigs and record players.
Inspired by the movies as medium to reach larger audiences, he decided it was time for a Dolemite film. He wanted to see more stories for people like him, made by people like him. Moore tried to swim through the proper channels at first, approaching studios who made popular blaxploitation films of the era but no one would touch it. Did he stop there?
Nope. He sure didn’t.
Instead, he put together an ace team of comedians, friends, musicians, actors, film students, and writers to work on his first feature, Dolemite. He self-financed the picture almost entirely from money he earned recording and touring, eventually giving up his apartment to keep the movie going. At one point the production ran out of money. So…did he…?
Come on, you know he didn’t let that stop him.
Instead, Moore went to his record label, who finally agreed to give him an advance on future recording royalties to help him finish the film. The man simply would. Not. Quit.
I was lucky to catch a secret screening of Dolemite Is My Name at Fantastic Fest this year and absolutely loved it’s heartfelt vibe, inspirational tone, and yeah, it really made me laugh. The film follows Moore from Dolemite’s inception as a character to the release of Dolemite in theaters, to amazing comedic effect. When you have a cast including Eddie Murphy, Tituss Burgess, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, and Keegan-Michael Key, what else would you expect? And though the film is being touted as Murphy’s triumphant return to acting after an extended hiatus from showbiz, I’m more in awe of Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Wesley Snipes. Murphy is great, don’t get me wrong. He infuses Moore with much determination, heart, and ingenuity, all while making you smile. Moore’s lines, like, “Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game” are delivered with bravado and confidence. Murphy does great work here. But this film really belongs to Randolph and Snipes.
Randolph plays Lady Reed (otherwise known as Queen Bee), a down-on-her-luck single mother whose latent comedic talent Moore nurtures. She becomes Dolemite’s platonic sidekick - they were like a male-female Wilder and Pryor. In every single moment, Randolph shines as a woman finding herself, her worth, her strength, with Moore’s support in the background. Randolph treats her Lady Reed with much tenderness - a later scene between Randolph and Murphy made me cry over my espresso milkshake and fries at the Alamo Drafthouse I saw this at. Wherever Randolph has been (she’s had a lot of Broadway fame), wherever she’s going, I’m hoping there’s much more in store for her.
And then there’s Snipes…wowowowowowoowww. He manages to convey so much without saying much at all. As D’Urville Martin, a renowned character actor remembered for countless blaxploitation films as well as playing the elevator attendant in Rosemary’s Baby, he’s brought on, almost against his will, as actor and director of Dolemite. The joyful way in which Snipes chooses to deliver lines (his director’s call for “action” comes out as a fancy “ack-she-own”) had me and the audience living for it. Snipes dines out on chewed scenery in Dolemite Is My Name - there’s not nearly enough of him in it.
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the writing duo behind biopics Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Big Eyes, the script is solid, with just enough backstory to keep the plot moving merrily along. If anything is missing here, it’s a deeper dive into Moore and what really made him tick; sadly there just isn’t the time to explore it here. Helmed by director Craig Brewer, most recognizable for Hustle & Flow, the film shows off his talent for wringing amazing performances from his actors as well as bringing out the best in potentially comedic moments. Brewer ushers the film through a variety of emotional touch points, allowing the audience to truly feel for the characters and what they were trying to accomplish. Moore’s Dolemite may not be a good example of technical filmmaking, or even the best blaxploitation film (depending on who you talk to) but who cares? You are rooting for this team, which is not only a credit to the strong cast, but to our writers and director. And despite the dialogue having as many “fucks” and “motherfuckers” as there are grandmas in a church on Sunday, Dolemite Is My Name is almost…virtuous. Its messages of hope, acceptance, and perseverance give the film a wholesome sheen that goes down easy, like a refreshing fountain soda at the movies. (I also feel it important to mention that Brewer is directing the forthcoming Coming to America sequel, Coming 2 America, starring Murphy and Snipes. I probably shouldn’t be as excited for that as I am.)
So. Remember that thing I said up there? About not giving up on your dreams? Yeah, I was talking to you. Moore would want you to get out there and just do it. What are you waiting for, motherfucker?