(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 42
4.5 out of 5 🐙
In 1988, I was a geeky 14-year-old kid and I KNEW that Eddie Murphy was the funniest human being on the planet. Coming to America was the 3rd highest grossing movie in the world, trailing To this day, I can interject quotes from that flick when I’m talking to my contemporaries. The worldwide movie audience left Coming to America fully confident that Eddie Murphy was going to deliver something great soon.
But then things went sideways. I could speculate why but I don’t think anyone, even Murphy, really knows. But the next 20 years of his career were a wildly inconsistent litany of terrible movies, hilarious voice over animation roles, extended SNL gags, and some bizarre films that defy easy characterization. There were bright moments but none of them dominated the global audience imagination like Coming to America.
Dolemite is My Name was never going to dominate the box office. But it was the first time since 1988 that a role really utilized ALL of Murphy’s unique skill set. Any fan of his standup will attest to his flawless comic delivery and infectious charisma. No one will confuse him with Denzel Washington but he’s a fine actor and can handle more than punchlines. In Dolemite is My Name, he plays Rudy Ray Moore, the creator of the Dolemite character which was the center of several several blockbuster blaxploitation films. As with most true stories, you will recognize similar elements: the hero starts from nothing to overcoming institutional doubt and exit in triumph. Murphy is almost tailor made for this role. He plays a lewd dreamer who doesn’t know how his “life got so small.” He finds comic treasure in the bawdy stories of local homeless people and transforms these stories into a character that gets enough juice to make the biggest screen dream seem within reach. Director Craig Brewer has assembled a brilliant cast of comic stars: Keegan-Michael Key, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Mike Epps, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg. It is a surfeit of riches. Any of these actors could be the 2nd half of a movie and Brewer guides them to bounce off each other in a frenetic, hilarious, raunchy, 70s era comic opera.
But all of these fine players take a backseat to the best turn of Wesley Snipes’ career. My apologies to devotees of the Blade trilogy, New Jack City, and White Men Can’t Jump. Who knew Wesley Snipes could be so funny? He plays a delusional alcoholic, barely better than no-name, actor who adds credibility to the rest of Rudy’s less-than-no-name friends. He begrudgingly accepts the director role for Rudy’s film and regrets his choice immediately but reigns in his “cinemagical” megalomania, accepts his set, and supports Dolemite’s rowdy brilliance. He is a revelation. I cannot remember the last time I have seen a long-established actor show a completely new skill set. At the point in a career when most actors are just playing their personality each time out, Snipes goes for broke and steals every single scene. And he is stealing them from a revitalized Murphy whose on-screen charisma is one of a kind.
I called my 14-year-old self, using the time travel phone. He was so happy to hear that a legend from this childhood was back to the height of his powers. And so will you.
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)