Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review: Eddie Murphy hasn't been this alive in decades in "Dolemite is my Name"

Dolemite is my Name Review
Who remembers early Eddie Murphy?

I know that may seem tough because Eddie Murphy, up until a few weeks ago, hadn't been himself in decades. That's not hyperbole, that is simply fact. Eddie Murphy in his early prime has not been the same Eddie Murphy we saw throughout the 2000's and even most of the late 1990's. Eddie Murphy in the early 1980's, had a special type of hunger as a comic. He mastered the type of humor that wasn't just funny, he was dangerous. That dangerous hunger would eventually filter into Eddie Murphy's movie roles and his skits on Saturday Night Live. There is a humor to Eddie Murphy movies from the 1980's that is just uniquely his. He was literally one of those guys who couldn't be matched by any other comic actor at the time.

Then suddenly the dream died. Some say he turned into Elvis, some say he he got into his own head. I have no idea. But in the middle of the 1990's, Eddie Murphy simply stopped being Eddie Murphy. When he started to sign on for family comedy over family comedy over family comedy, it seemed as if he can clipped his own wings. Did he seriously vanish so far up his own ass that he forgot who he truly was? At the dawn of the 2010's, Murphy simply disappeared, only coming out to occasionally voice Donkey in a random "Shrek" movie. Gone was the unique humor and the dangerous vibe of his laughs and in was a period of time where he was playing simple variations of the same person. When he showed up for the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, he seemed like all he wanted to do was quickly get off the stage that it was staggering to watch, and he wasn't even on for very long.

I didn't think we'd ever see real Eddie Murphy again. But hey, I've been wrong in the past and I was wrong again. "Dolemite is my Name" is Eddie Murphy revitalized. This is the first time in decades where Eddie Murphy is wide awake, and the result is a movie full of a zany yet inspirational energy. There is a method to the madness that is so addicting to watch. This is a movie that made Eddie himself again, and its just one of them any highlights of the film.

"Dolemite is my Name" tells the true story of how comedian and actor Rudy Ray Moore made the film "Dolemite." It made me laugh a bit because just around the time "Dolemite is my Name" appeared on Netflix, "Dolemite" from 1975 starring the real Rudy Ray Moore made its way onto Amazon Prime. "Dolemite" is a blaxploitation movie, a sub-genre that was big throughout the 1970's, movies by black Americans, starring predominantly black Americans. The genre sustained much controversy, as the movies were usually crime dramas and it depicted blacks as criminals in many films. But the sub-genre is celebrated because these were the first movies in which black actors were the leads. Not the sidekicks, not the villains, not the comic relief, they were the leads.

Dolemite is a character Moore created, he's a smooth-talking, bad attitude having pimp-with-a-heart. The movie depicts his outrageous adventures and misadventures  as a tough-as-nails guy. Oh, and all of his women know kung-fu. Because of course they do. This movie was made at the height of the grindhouse era. The movies didn't have to make sense as long as they were entertaining. I watched "Dolemite" before watching "Dolemite is my Name" and it certainly enriched the experience.

Its amazing stacking Murphy next to Moore because Moore had a bigger stature. But there is no denying that Murphy definitely becomes the character. Murphy's usual sharp wit on full display here, as if he was born to play Rudy Ray Moore. The film opens with a great scene where Moore is trying to get a Disc Jockey (played by Snoop Dogg) to play certain songs and its not going well. We meet Rudy Ray Moore at a very desperate time in his life and its amazing how quickly the movie paints this picture without falling to cliche like a crutch. When Moore says "I don't have anything anybody wants" he means it and we feel it.

Eventually Rudy Ray Moore does find his step. That one thing we all want to find, that one foot in the door. Then more steps are taken past the door and forward and forward until Moore has carved his own version of the American Dream for himself. The movie may feel structured like similar movies, but the unrelenting humor throughout and the amazing work by Murphy keep you engaged. I am also baffled that such a sincere and inspiring movie had the word "motherfucker" spoken at least 400 times. Murphy is working with a great cast, including Keegan Scott-Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Chris Rock, Mike Epps and great discovery in Da'Vine Joy Randolph. The look and sound of 1970's Los Angeles is mesmerizing. 

The thing is though, the special effect is Eddie Murphy. I've missed and oh yeah, he's back. Hopefully here to stay.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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