The reviews I read for Eddie Murphy's performance as the late Rudy Ray Moore were almost like thank-you notes. They were full of gratitude and appreciation. The reviews did not exaggerate. Eddie Murphy is so good in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME and the low-budget biopic is so entertaining that I watched it twice. This movie works in delightful ways that are almost subversive. You almost don't realize that this story set in the black community of my Los Angeles youth gives you fresh images of black people in working class L.A. In this "Me Too" era, we see that women can be totally naked in a work-related situation and be treated with respect by her male co-workers. We see a valentine to embracing diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. We see that black people read film reviews in newspapers and entertainment news publications. We'll see a black man pay back all the folks who loaned him money. I love me some DOLEMITE IS MY NAME starring Eddie Murphy at the top of his game.
In biopics of white 1950s rock stars, we saw them get musical inspiration from black music and black musicians. Here, we see a black man get inspiration from a member of his own race and community. He gets inspiration from a neighborhood wino who frequently drops into the record shop. He may be a bum to society. However, he's got knowledge to offer. He inspires Rudy. Rudy reinvents himself with a harmless pimp persona onstage -- complete with wig and sporty outfit -- and does ribald nursery rhymes for adults only in his emcee bits. Rudy is a hit. With the help of his three amigos, he cuts a grassroots comedy album as his new persona, Dolemite. Those raunchy and funny albums are a hit with the L.A. black folks in Crenshaw, South Central and Baldwin Hills. His comedy albums are too blue to play on radio like comedy cuts from Flip Wilson, George Carlin or -- as his aunt would say -- "that sweet Bill Cosby," but he's making money. Rudy and the three buddies grab a bite again. To celebrate, he wants to treat them to a movie. One of the guys had been talking about THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Another mentions that he wants to see SHAFT IN AFRICA. Rudy suggests THE FRONT PAGE because he read the reviews that called it one of the funniest films now playing. The four go to see the Billy Wilder 1970s remake of a 1931 movie.
This scene rocks. I grew up in L.A. I went to see THE FRONT PAGE when it played because it was directed by Billy Wilder. I saw it at a theatre in Inglewood. Whereas TV, radio, The Los Angeles Times, The Herald Examiner, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter never hired black critics and seemed to assume black moviegoers had no awareness of filmmakers like Billy Wilder, here was a black comedian who wants to see a new Billy Wilder movie because the reviews he read were good. The movie audience is packed. The four are the only black folks in the audience. I felt like I knew Rudy's three friends. The scene reflected movie experiences I had when I was a kid. In theaters or at school, I'd hear my friends say "How come there ain't no black kids dancing in those BEACH PARTY or Elvis Presley movies?"
Rudy's three friends had no idea what THE FRONT PAGE was about and they noticed that no black folks were in it. Rudy realized the power of film. His next goal was to make a movie.
He goes on the road doing comedy dates as Dolemite. At one club, he sees a woman at a low point in her life. After his show, he talks to her. Her name is Lady Reed. She's a single working mother who broke free from an abusive relationship. Rudy sees something special in her that nobody else ever did. He makes Lady Reed part of his comedy act. What a performance Da'Vine Joy Randolph delivers as Lady Reed. Her character goes from wounded and cynical, to hopeless, to business-like, to unexpectedly happy in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. Da'Vine Joy Randolph lights up the screen.
Rudy and his pals spot a black actor in a booth at a strip club. Rudy approaches him to pitch the Dolemite movie. The actor turns out to pretentious and disinterested. He immediately chuckles and tells them that he has an agent, he has an entertainment lawyer, and he's been "directed by Roland Polanski." The actor played an elevator operator in ROSEMARY'S BABY. Persuasive Rudy offers the actor that chance to direct the movie. Bingo. That appeals to the actor's vanity. As the pretentious director, Wesley Snipes reminds us that he's got comedy skills. Giving his character a splash of late 1960s Sammy Davis Jr., it's Wesley Snipe's best comedy performance since 1995's TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR.
Rudy and Lady Reed are both single. There's no romance between them, yet he has affection and respect for her. With his help, her life will be in a much better place at the end than it was when they met. Although Rudy Ray Moore's Kung fu blaxploitation movie got lousy reviews from the white critics, his low-budget DOLEMITE indie movie did better at the box office than Billy Wilder's remake of THE FRONT PAGE did. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a funny and heartwarming R-rated biopic that I'll be watching again. I need the laughs.
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