Murphy is dynamite in new Netflix film ‘Dolemite’

“Dolemite Is My Name” is streaming on Netflix. Netflix

“Dolemite Is My Name,” starring Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore, an over-the-hill comedian who became an unlikely film star in the early 1970s, is many things: A comeback story whose lead actor is indeed making a comeback, a disco-dandy period-piece and an ebullient comedy with an irresistibly inspirational message.

The film, now on Netflix, is also a sincere tribute from one African-American success story to another. Moore, who died in 2008, was a major influence on Murphy as a young comedian growing up on Long Island, and Murphy clearly feels a deep kinship with the character. In his first major film role in years, Murphy delivers a terrific performance: funny, sharp, poignant and full of love.

Dolemite is a folkloric figure, a kind of X-rated Stagger Lee whose exploits are recounted in rhyme. Moore is working in a Los Angeles record store when he hears a homeless man reeling off these prurient poems, and a light bulb goes off. Assembling a fantastic barf-green pimp-outfit (kudos to Ruth E. Carter for the eye-watering wardrobes), Moore becomes Dolemite on stage, and he’s a hit. Homemade records are pressed and the Chitlin’ Circuit beckons, but Moore isn’t satisfied with being an underground Redd Foxx: He wants to make a movie.

What follows is a comedy of errors with echoes of “The Disaster Artist” and “Ed Wood” (whose screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, rework their loopy-but-lovely magic here) as Moore plows forward on a low-budget film despite a complete lack of experience or skill. The result is “Dolemite,” a 1975 action-comedy-chop-socky-you-name-it that became a grassroots smash and launched a franchise. It also helped popularize Moore as a rap godfather who would later appear on tracks by Big Daddy Kane, Snoop Dogg (who takes a small role here) and 2 Live Crew.

“Dolemite Is My Name,” directed by Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”), makes the most of everything it’s got. Small parts are played by major talent — Keegan Michael-Key is an uptight screenwriter, while Craig Robinson and Mike Epps are among Moore’s faithful pals — and nearly every frame is packed with period details. Two standout performances come from Wesley Snipes as the tragicomic director D’Urville Martin and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed, a woman of hard luck and large size who overcomes her insecurities to step into the spotlight.

“Dolemite Is My Name” should make this a banner year for Netflix, which also produced Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-caliber saga “The Irishman.” As for Murphy, a best actor nod doesn’t seem out of the question. If the Academy invents an award for Best Feel-Good Motion Picture, though, “Dolemite Is My Name” will be the movie to beat.

Tribune Wire

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.