Monday, November 25, 2019
Murphy Watch: Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Format: Netflix Original
Back in college my pal Shoemaker would wait til we were about four drinks in and then I'd turn around he'd have put Dolemite movies on, and so I vaguely remembered them from the heyday of the mid 1990's. Between being four drinks in, not focusing on the movies and the passage of 2.5 decades, sadly, my memory of the movies was vague at best.
Bad kung-fu, stilted acting and gratuitous nudity were more or less what registered and stuck with me. And, I never did listen to any Rudy Ray Moore records, just saw images of the covers. I like blue humor as much as the next guy, I just never made the time.
When I heard Dolemite Is My Name (2019) was coming out, I decided to revisit the original film. And, if you follow this blog closely, you'll note that there's no post for Dolemite from this year. Because, honestly, it's a movie you should be watching with other people. Watching it by yourself just feels kinda weird. It is a *bad* movie, but it is a fun bad movie that asks to be talked over and discussed as it goes along. And, yeah, my memories of bad kung-fu, stilted acting and gratuitous nudity were verified. Way to go, 1990's brain cells!
A while back The Disaster Artist, based on the real-life story of the making of The Room came out, a product of James Franco and his brother, whose most amazing accomplishment is marrying Allison Brie. And there's a huge bit of difference between the two - Rudy Ray Moore was always looking just to entertain, and if he didn't get exactly a studio-level picture out of the deal, he did get a memorable one on his own terms. I love Tommy Wiseau, but that dude's greatest accomplishment is accepting the love for The Room for what it is - an astoundingly incompetent melodrama that didn't have a sense of humor about it until it did.
I just think Dolemite is my Name is the better of the two movies.
Look, I am thrilled if this means the return of Eddie Murphy in top form. And that's what he is in this movie. During the Trading Places/ Beverly Hills Cop era of his career, Murphy earned top-star status. I don't blame him for choosing lighter fare as he aged and had kids - I'll be the first to say I enjoyed his take on The Nutty Professor. Couldn't make it through Haunted Mansion, but they can't all be gems. But here, he seems rejuvenated, and - fortunately for us - he brings along some great additional talent. Mike Epps. Tituse Burgess. Keegan-Michael Key. Craig Robinson. Da'Vine Joy Randolph. Tons of other talent, but also... reminding everyone he absolutely can do comedy - Wesley Snipes.
The story is, frankly, remarkable, and mostly true! Rudy Ray Moore really did scratch his way up from nothing. Unfortunately, it's a *lot* of story to pack into one movie, so we're only getting glimpses through a kaleidoscope as Moore passes from record store assistant manager to coming up with Dolemite, to his first performance - all in little expository hops. An unhappy backstory is alluded to, but this character is not a kid when the film begins, so there's a lot that could surface. "Should surface" is another question. Do we need more of what Moore was abandoning in Arkansas when he headed for LA? Not really - we get it. And Murphy doesn't drop the ball in his few scenes wrestling with that past.
Recreations of Dolemite will seem too absurd to be true, but, I assure you, the filmmakers went to tremendous lengths to get it right and succeeded. It seems odd to go to the mat for accuracy for a Dolemite movie, but it's all part of the unique alchemy of what Moore was doing.
Anyhoo... It's not exactly ground breaking as a movie, but it is a celebration of a certain guy who deserves to be remembered for what he brought to an underserved audience and the joy he brought to his work and the screen. The DIY story is as relevant now as ever, but, mostly, it's stunning to see Eddie Murphy back and doing a project he clearly cares about.