Brief Synopsis: Real-life struggling comedian, Rudy Ray Moore, sees an opportunity to improve his lot in life and achieve the success he has always craved when a chance meeting with a homeless vagrant gives him the idea to invent the character and comedy persona Dolemite. Not happy with the regional success the character brings him, Moore uses his fame and sales skills to persuade friends and others to make a film in the middle of the seventies blaxploitation era.
Is It Any Good?: Yes. Dolemite Is My Name sees Eddie Murphy taking on the central role of the never-say-die Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy, who found fame and superstardom in his 20s, is perfect as the middle-aged Moore having one final roll of the dice and hitting the jackpot.
The film has a lot of heart and the costume department deserves an award for some of the best wardrobe items I have ever seen in a film.
Spoiler Territory: Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) works in Dolphin’s record shop where he is trying to persuade the store DJ, Roj (Snoop Dogg), to put one of his little-known songs onto the playlist. Roj refuses. Roj, who is greying and older than 40, like Rudy, tells Rudy that they have missed their chance for fame and should just be happy to be working. Ray leaves him to his deejaying.
Toney (Tituss Burgess), comes rushing late for work at the record shop. He takes over from Rudy and Rudy leaves to go home and get dressed for his second job of the day, a warm comedian at the local club, The Californian. At the club, as Rudy does his act on the stage, the crowd pretty much ignore him as he performs, chattering away as they wait for the main act. Rudy introduces the main act, The Ben Taylor (Craig Robinson) Band, to warm applause.
The club owner, Mr Allen (Jernard Burks), warns Rudy about going over his allotted time. Rudy tries to sell himself to Allen, saying he can do a bigger, better act. Allen is not interested. The next day, Toney is listening to a Redd Foxx and chuckling away. Rudy cannot understand what Toney finds funny. Rudy spots Ricco (Ron Cephas Jones), a hobo, coming into the store. He and Toney argue as to who should get him out of the store. Toney wins the argument.
Ricco is a bit of a character, spitting rhyming cusses as he walks around the small store, must to the amusement of the patrons. Rudy gives Ricco some money in an effort to get him to leave. Ricco heads for the exit but stops and regales the store with a final tale. It gives Rudy an idea.
He discusses it with Toney, Ben and Jimmy (Mike Epps), who is another comedian. He tells them that he thinks that if some of the old jokes were polished up, they would make a good act. Toney agrees with him but Jimmy derides the idea. Rudy leaves his friends and goes looking for Ricco. He is directed to an old building, the Dunbar hotel, by another hobo. He tells him a lot of the hobos and winos live thee.
Rudy finds Ricco and offers him money and booze to talk to him. He sits down and talks a few of the old hobos, listening to their stories and jokes. He records the conversations and returns home to write his new set, modifying the jokes and stories. He creates the character of Dolemite. Rudy decides to try his new act at the Californian even though Allen tells him not to. The act goes down a storm.
Emboldened by the success of their new act, Rudy decides that he wants to make a comedy album. He goes to see his aunt (Luenell) and borrows the money to record the record. With the help of his small crew of friends, he gathers a small crowd into his apartment and records the album.
He takes the recording to a record company but is told that the profanity is too much and he cannot sell it. Rudy decides to print the records himself. He prints the records and it becomes a hit. His stage act is sold out where ever he goes. He is approached by the Bihari brothers, who have a record company and want to help him promote the record. He begins to tour black America.
Whilst in a small town, he sees a woman, Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) having an altercation with her husband. After his show, he befriends Lady Reed. She joins him on his shows, singing and performing as well. Rudy’s album hits the Billboards chart and his promoters are eager to record further albums. Rudy’s star continues to rise.
Back in town, he goes and hangs out with his guys and decides to take them to see a successful comedy, The Front Page. None of the guys finds the film funny, but sitting in a predominantly white audience, are surrounded by people who find it hilarious. Rudy is inspired to make a movie. He goes to see the leading black production house in LA. he is told that black films are going in a different direction and that he is not as athletic as their usual leading men.
Toney tells Rudy he should stick to comedy and leave films be. Rudy tells him that his father always told he would not amount to anything and he was determined to do whatever he set his mind to. Rudy decides to finance the film himself. He goes to the local black theatre and recruits the writer, Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key), to write the film with him. Rudy and Ben and Jimmy go to the local kitty bar. They see the B-list actor, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) in the club. Rudy approaches him but is given short shrift, D’Urville telling him that he is a serious actor. D’Urville he insults the trio saying he has worked with serious directors—a bit part in Rosemary’s Baby—Rudy offers him the director’s gig.
With D’Urville onboard, Rudy puts up his recording rights to secure the money for the film. He negotiates a deal with the owner of the Durban hotel building to use it as his film studio, clearing out the drug users and homeless people in return for use of the property. Jerry gets students from a film school to come and work on the film. It is a struggle, but they get the film made.
With the film complete, Rudy tries to hawk to the studios. They all refuse to distribute it. A nearly broke Rudy goes back on the road, still trying to make money to distribute his film. Whilst on Bobby Vale’s (Chris Rock) radio show in Indianapolis, Vale asks him when the film is coming out. Rudy has no date. A frustrated Vale talks to him off-air as he thinks Rudy is being obtuse. Rudy tells him no studio will release the movie.
Vale gives him the number of his cousin, Demond (Barry Shabaka Henley), who runs a movie theatre. Rudy goes to see him. Demond tells him he can get a midnight showing but it will cost him $300. He can keep all the box office. Rudy takes the deal and gets promoting.
As Friday night comes around, a nervous Rudy waits in the theatre, not sure if anyone will turn up. The show is sold out. The film is a roaring success. Rudy gets a call from Dimension pictures. They want to distribute the picture. He goes and makes a deal with them.
As he and his close entourage go to the premiere, they are reading the reviews. The reviews are neither kind or flattering. Deflated by the reviews, Rudy tries to lift everyone’s spirits by telling them that he feels that regardless of the premiere’s outcome they have already achieved a great deal. When they turn up at the premiere they are greeted by a passionate and vocal crowd all waiting to see Rudy.
Rudy lets the rest of the entourage go into the film and he goes out and meets the fans. The end.
Dolemite Is My Name is a highly entertaining, lovingly emotive telling of Rudy Ray Moore’s story and how he came to be, in the mid-70s, the toast of black Americana. Brilliantly portrayed by Eddie Murphy, you root for the determined and likeable Rudy as a middle-aged comedian trying to become something in an age, a generation, so far removed from something that is almost a normality in the present day.
With good and believable performances from all present, as well as a story that manages to be based or reflect a life, in a positive way of a man who battled and refused to let naysayers deny him his dream, Dolemite Is My Name is just under two hours of uplifting entertainment.
Unlike the Shaft films or the films of Sidney Poitier, Rudy Ray Moore was not a person whose star crossed the water, so when Eddie Murphy clips of him in costume began to appear online, I must admit I thought it was another spoof in the vein of Black Dynamite, the brilliant Michael Jai White comedy of some years back.
Thankfully, and pertinently, the film, though amusing in parts, does not aim for comedy. Nor does it aim for pathos, it simply tells the story of Rudy and his burning desire to fulfil his dream. Directed by Craig Brewer and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the film’s power is in the performances and the story focus, with not much in the way of secondary stories or distracting backstory.
Though one is left wanting to know more about Rudy Ray Moore and his friends, in terms of the film told here, the lack of background information and history helps the film, making the central drive of the story, Rudy’s dream, an unencumbered focus.
Dolemite Is My Name is definitely worth two hours of your time. Even you are not a fan of blaxploitation cinema, the film is worth seeing for the wardrobe alone which is both striking – Murphy’s costumes especially – and magnificent. A joy.