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Review: 'Dolemite is My Name' a hilarious, uplifting showbiz success story

Eddie Murphy is back in the rousing story of Rudy Ray Moore, the comedian who made 1975's blaxploitation classic "Dolemite"

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Eddie Murphy is a sleeping giant reawakened in "Dolemite is My Name," an uproarious, big-hearted piece of lets-go-out-there-and-put-on-a-show entertainment.  

Murphy is alive, engaged with and connected to the story of Rudy Ray Moore, the comedian who in 1975 pooled his resources and made "Dolemite," a slapdash revenge tale that went on to become a blaxploitation classic.

Eddie Murphy in "Dolemite is My Name."

Murphy hasn't been this dialed-in in decades, and it's a treat to watch him eat up the screen and everything around it as a loud, barking master of his own destiny. Consider him a major awards season contender.  

Murphy plays Moore as a hustler and a dreamer, a comedian whose time had passed but who wasn't ready to give up on his ambitions. By the mid 1970s he was in his late 40s, ancient by Hollywood standards, but possessed with the go-getter attitude of someone half his age. 

When "Dolemite is My Name" opens, Moore is begging a DJ to play his record, using every trick at his disposal to wear him down: humor, sympathy, guilt. The assumption is he's at a radio station, only when the camera pulls back do we see he's angling to get played over the loud system of a local L.A. record store where he works the register. 

Moore is in charge of the grunt work at the store, which includes ushering out the "liquor store wisemen" who stumble in the door and pester customers. One of them, Rico (Ron Cephas Jones), regularly regales with tales of Dolemite, a larger-than-life figure with a brash, butt-kicking attitude to boot. Moore sees potential in these stories, and begins to retool his comedy act around the Dolemite character.

With money he borrows from his aunt, he records an album as Dolemite, in an apartment he converts into a makeshift nightclub. When it hits, more albums follow, and Moore's act becomes a draw.

There's a thrilling duality to the scenes of Moore on stage, in part because it's been so long since we've seen Murphy in front of live audiences. And you get the feeling that Murphy is feeling the rush, too. 

During a trip to the movies (he sees 1974's Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau comedy "The Front Page"), Moore sees an opportunity for a different kind of filmed entertainment, something with the kinds of things he wants from a movie: breasts, belly laughs and kung-fu. So he sets out, skills be damned, to make a big-screen Dolemite movie. 

Director Craig Brewer, who also helmed 2005's "Hustle & Flow," sees a lot of similarities in Moore and "Hustle & Flow's" main character, DJay. Both are self-starters with grit and determination in their blood who won't take no for an answer. And both get by with a little help from their friends. 

In Moore's case, that includes his pals Ben (Craig Robinson) and Jimmy (Mike Epps), as well as Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who becomes something of his muse. To pull off the movie, he calls on screenwriter Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) and director D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), who become a part of Moore's ragtag on-set family, who make Hollywood history in an abandoned hotel using electricity they borrow from next door. 

"Dolemite is My Name" tells an invigorating underdog tale, an old-school, fake-it-til-you-make-it American success story. Brewer, working from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski ("The People vs. Larry Flynt," "Man on the Moon"), finds the unexpected heart and uplifting spirit in Moore's tale and pumps it up into a rousing everyman yarn. "Dolemite" is dynamite.  

'Dolemite is My Name'


Rated R: for pervasive language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity

Running time: 118 minutes

In theaters Friday, on Netflix Oct. 25