With a career that includes seven Golden Raspberry nominations for Worst Actor (and a “win” for 2007’s god-awful Norbit), Eddie Murphy is one of Hollywood’s great conundrums. The man who not only ruled the stand-up stage and the box office in the 80s, but brilliantly voiced Shrek’s wise-cracking Donkey, and even earned an Oscar nod (which should have been a win) for 2006’s Dreamgirls is also the same guy who gave us unadulterated crap like A Thousand Words and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
Murphy launched what seemed to be a comeback with 2016’s Mr. Church but then disappeared just as quickly. Then, lo and behold, he popped up in Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on Netflix this past July, and his half-hilarious, half-poignant appearance reminded us all that Murphy may still have something left in the tank.
Dolemite Is My Name confirms it.
Before we go any further, if you’ve never seen the original film, do yourself a favor. Not only is it pointless to watch this Netflix treat without it, it actually holds up on its own as a hilarious, low-budget romp. (Think The Room, but with a plot, characters, and a sense of humor.)
A pet project of Murphy’s since the early 2000s, Dolemite Is My Name celebrates the rise of Rudy Ray Moore, the mid-70s multi-hyphenate who introduced the world to arguably the most memorable character of his time. Not only was Moore a highly successful comedian, producer, and actor, he was also the inspiration for many comedians and performers who came after him, including Murphy himself. And Dolemite Is My Name is more than a worthy (and overdue) tribute to the comedic pioneer—it’s a flat-out joyride, thanks in large part to Murphy’s committed, powerful performance.
The film begins in the late 60s, with Moore unsuccessfully trying to make a name for himself in Los Angeles. The local DJ (Snoop Dogg, in a hilarious cameo) won’t play his novelty records, and even a weekly stint as an emcee at a jazz-funk club can’t turn heads. Everything changes, though, when Moore hears a local wino (Ron Cephas Jones) yammering about a fierce, jive-talkin’ folk-hero pimp named Dolemite and decides to adopt him as his own alter-ego.
Instantly, Moore earns himself a following in the city’s black community. Crowds are now packing the club, he’s selling bootlegs out of his trunk, and it’s not long before a record label signs him. All of this is just build-up, though, to what Moore has been gunning for all along—the chance to bring Dolemite to the big screen.
The entire second half of Dolemite Is My Name is a hilarious, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the original film, and to call that production process a trainwreck doesn’t even begin to cover it. Along with perfecting the atmosphere of mid-70s Los Angeles and re-creating many iconic scenes from the film (and its sequel, 1976’s The Human Tornado), Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) pulls no punches in showing what a mess the filming of Dolemite was. Funds dry up, Moore runs out of film stock, and director and co-star D'Urville Martin (welcome back, Wesley Snipes!) clearly thinks he has better things to do with his time.
Somehow, though, Moore single-handedly wills the cult-classic film into existence, and seeing Murphy channel the man who “made his own legend” (to paraphrase Dolemite Is My Name’s tagline) is a thing of beauty. He may not look or sound anything like Moore, but he captures the spirit of the man and, at the same time, reminds the world exactly who it was that brought Axel Foley and Reggie Hammond to life.
Featuring a stellar supporting cast that includes Keegan-Michael Key, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Chris Rock, and Titus Burgess, Dolemite Is My Name is a hilarious and fun slice of heaven that's a little like watching a piece of beautiful music come together—a symphony of profanity, obscenity, and low-budget crap, to be sure, but still a damn fine work of art.