Saturday, June 22, 2024

‘Dolemite’ delivers for Netflix and audience

Tommy Wiseau, Ed Wood and Rudy Ray Moore did not make good movies, but there is some quality to their misfires that resonate with audiences.

Each of these deluded directors’ stories have spawned movies in which different storytellers investigate how these movies can be so bad that they end up feeling good.

“Dolemite Is My Name” follows the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, played by Eddie Murphy, whose career went from singer to shake dancer and by the time it arrived at stand-up comedian, something finally clicked. Using a larger than life wig, flashy suits and a cane, he creates the character known as Dolemite.

His style of comedy doesn’t really deal with jokes, but mostly consists of rhyming lines of a story that overflows with profanity. Clearly, he connected with his audiences and through loans from his aunt, a record deal, and numerous favors from his friends, he was able to make “Dolemite” (1975).

Director Craig Brewer understands that in order to tell this rags to riches story, the world has to be completely believable. He perfectly conjures up the early seventies with Sly & The Family Stone scores the opening credits as we explore a record store.

Then there are the costumes, and oh, are there costumes.

Industry legend Ruth E. Carter, who won for her work with last year’s “Black Panther,” indulges in the seventies excess. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is stunning as Rudy Ray Moore’s co-star who follows in his steps with a beautiful wig and pastel-colored dresses. Craig Robinson’s Ben Taylor is a pure showman and his perfectly pressed white suits shine as bright as his stage presence.

Speaking of stage presence, Eddie Murphy revels in his first R-rated performance in the past 20 years. He repeats Rudy Ray Moore’s catchphrase; “Dolemite is my name and f—kin’ up motherf—kers is my game,” as a mantra and he could say it one thousand times and it will always be hilarious. This consistent level of profanity is usually grating in the hands of a lesser comedian, but Murphy brings an earnestness to this character.

This kind of excess was typical for the time period, especially in blaxploitation films. It was a niche genre that would rarely breakthrough into the larger popular culture. Because of movies like “Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song,” (1971) which featured supposedly unsimulated sex scenes, there was a stigma against blaxploitation.

In a roundtable discussion with the cast of “Dolemite Is My Name,” the topic of what made Rudy Ray Moore so memorable came up. Mike Epps put it eloquently, “People love who love themselves.”

This is a story about an entertainer who happens to be crass, not a story about a crass man who happens to be entertaining.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have been working alongside each other since the early ‘90s. One of their early co-writing credits includes Tim Burton’s Oscar-nominated “Ed Wood.” They have only gotten better over time as the first act lays the foundation in a lean and confident way.

It feels completely natural and by the time you realize how much ground is covered, the story is moving right along and you are there for the ride.

Clearly, Netflix has found its groove. They are able to make crowd-pleasing shows like “Stranger Things” while being able to appease the indie crowd with the making of stories about blaxploitation heroes.

Right now the question is can Netflix finally be taken seriously during the awards show season? “Roma” was able to score very well during last year’s award season, but it’s tough to say if that was just a one-time thing. When “Roma” was in the Oscar race, director Steven Spielberg said, “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for an Academy Award nomination.”

I strongly disagree with that statement because Spielberg’s latest film, “Ready Player One” may have had a lot of shiny effects, but the movies Netflix are making like “Dolemite Is My Name” have far more emotion.

If the studio plays their cards right, “Dolemite Is My Name” has some serious potential at the Golden Globes for Best Comedy.

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