Starring Eddie Murphy. Rating unavailable
“I ain’t no hobo,” protests the booze-smelling pest ejected from the L.A. record store where Dolemite begins. “I’m a repository of Afro-American folklore.” When we meet the real-life ejector, one Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), he is himself a perennial outsider in the early 1970s, still trying to get in—a middle-aged southerner who moved west to “become the next Sammy Davis Jr.” and instead subsisted on the fringes of show business.
This is an epiphany in the fevered (if fact-based) imaginings of Black Snake Moan director and Empire producer Craig Brewer, working from a ceaselessly witty script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who previously illuminated semi-lovable losers in Ed Wood and Big Eyes. Tired of his own stale, Vegas-style jokes, Moore starts collecting more raunchy tall tales from “the liquor-store wise men” who congregate near the record shop.
Bewigged, be-caned, and outfitted in clothes that would have shocked the pimps in Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, Rudy rebrands himself as Dolemite, a purportedly rock-hard (as per the name) trickster whose proclamations consist of filthy rhyming couplets. These were a mainstay of ghetto braggadocio, sometimes called Playing the Dozens (as per a later Dolemite LP) and a foundational element of hip-hop of all kinds—hence the presence of Snoop Dogg among other famous RR Moore fans.
Of course, you don’t need to know any of this, or be invested in the tale of how Moore willed himself to be a blaxploitation star just as that film genre was already peaking, to dig Dolemite. The film already operates so entertainingly on multiple levels, you can simply roll with your favourites.
Most obviously, this is the Eddie Murphy comeback we’ve all been waiting for, made sweeter by the fact that his character is never swamped by Eddie Murphyness. (It’s a nonvanity project for the erstwhile comic, also a producer here.) After that, it’s a deep-knowledge love letter to show biz itself, and especially to subgenres that don’t get, or even ask for, special respect. It is, in fact, a repository of black folklore and survival tools. And finally, this two-hour pleasure tour is a definitive tribute to all the underdogs who have just enough self-awareness to want to shoot for their full potential, but not so much to keep them from trying.