The comparisons between James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” (2017) and “Dolemite Is My Name,” begin and end with two guys outside of the studio system wanting to make a movie on their own.
While “The Disaster Artist” is also based on a true story, “Dolemite” is a more fully realized film. Eddie Murphy’s first film in a couple of years is sure to land the comedian a Golden Globe nomination, but breaking into competitive best actor Oscar field this year might be a larger challenge.
The contrast between more than 300 swear-words, and the encouraging message of perseverance is where the script finds its ingenuity. There are a handful of outrageous scenes that get honest laughs, the sex scene being the more memorable. Yet, it’s the sincerity of “Dolemite” that lingers after the laughter has faded.
Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy) left Arkansas in search of a dream. He arrived in Los Angeles open to be a comedian, singer, musician, even trying his hand at magic. Nothing worked.
His five-minute act at a local comedy club combined with his day job at a record store barely pays the bills. Vaudeville is dead, he’s told again and again.
He finds his inspiration for the character of Dolemite, in the most unlikely of sources, and almost instantly becomes a local sensation. Moore wants more and gets the idea of taking Dolemite to the big screen.
He hires friends and a few people associated with filmmaking, risking everything he’s already made from Dolemite to go one step further. Kung-fu, music, exorcisms, car chases, he figures if they are going to make a movie, might as well put everything in there.
From the opening scenes, until Moore starts working on his movie, “Dolemite” will take some patience for the audience to warm up to.
Murphy’s charm can only go so far on its own, his supporting cast, including a turned-up, camp performance from Wesley Snipes (Think “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” 1995), is the scene-stealer. The former “Blade” actor could be a shoo-in for a supporting nomination, if you can get past the fact his character doesn’t have an arc and is used solely as buffoonery.
Snappy quips from Snipes one glitter fingernail toting character are as delightful as they are bizarre. His snappy comebacks and interjections are hilarious but often out of context and random.
The rest of the cast truly supports Murphy’s performance as well as the narrative with television star Randolph the most memorable among them. Cameos from Chris Rock and Snoop Dog add further levity to the comedy.
Despite its ‘70s setting, “Dolemite” chooses to focus on the campy nature of the entertainment business surrounding Blaxploitation cinema and staying well outside of anything political.
“We missed our shots,” Snoop Dog’s local disc jockey tells Moore, refusing to play his comedy rap records. The notion of, “It’s never too late to see your dreams realized” is nothing new, but it’s the inventiveness on that theme where “Dolemite” finds its path to originality.
“Hustle & Flow” director Craig Brewer steps outside his own material to direct someone else’s script, namely Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski the writers behind “Ed Wood” (1994), “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996) and “Man on the Moon” (1999). Brewer’s straightforward, no-frills direction, keeps the film steady allowing the actors to be hilarious at times without losing control of the tone and narrative.
Final Thought: Murphy and Snipes dispense wildly entertaining performances in the years most foul-mouthed inspiring storyline.