Expletive-laden “Dolemite Is My Name” is a hilariously entertaining Netflix biopic starring Eddie Murphy that opens a window into Los Angeles history while exploring the life of the creator of the title character, Rudy Ray Moore.
The film opens on Moore, who in the early 1970s is middle-aged man with a potbelly and unfulfilled dreams of hitting the big time. Working as the assistant manager of the Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store, he begs the store deejay (Snoop Dogg in one of two key deejay cameo roles, the other provided by Chris Rock) to play his old 45s (a vinyl disc with a song on each side). Originally from Arkansas, Moore left behind a sharecropper father who told him he’d never amount to anything, a claim that Moore refuses to accept.
A homeless man who regularly hits him up for money inspires Moore to pay for the stories that the homeless men tell, recording their colorful language and working it into an act with rhythm and rhyme, explaining why Moore is often called The Godfather of Rap.
Trying out his new material at the California Club, where he’s been the unappreciated emcee, Moore finds his audience. But radio can’t play his routines due to their sexual content and his liberal use of four-lettered words, meaning Moore must tour. When he gets enough money, and even attracts a protegée in Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), he puts together material for a record in while hosting a performance party in his apartment.
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the same team that wrote the Tim Burton-directed 1994 biopic “Ed Wood,” and 2014’s “Big Eyes,” “Dolemite Is My Name,” is about a different type of unlikely Hollywood success story.
Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”) directs with love and admiration, and the film never becomes muddled because of it. Remember, this isn’t Eddie Murphy as the brash Axel Foley from the “Beverly Hills Cop” series or the wise yet humble “Mr. Church” (2016). Frustrated and sometimes unsure, Murphy’s Moore still has a generous heart when he’s doing well, and he always bets on himself.
Another delight of “Dolemite” is the casting. Keegan-Michael Key plays Jerry Jones, a serious playwright concerned with social issues and the lack of them in the Dolemite film. Craig Robinson (“The Office,” “Sausage Party”), Mike Epps (“The Hangover”), and Titus Burgess (“The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and the original Sebastian the Crab in the stage musical version of “The Little Mermaid”) are Moore’s friends. Wesley Snipes clearly has fun playing D’urville Martin, a real actor whose main claim to fame in 1968 was his role as Diego, the elevator operator in “Rosemary’s Baby.” Ruth E. Carter does an outstanding job of meshing the 1970s fashions against Art Deco décor of the times.
Other changes include the Dunbar Hotel, which was used for the filming of Moore’s “Dolemite.” Such jazz legends as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Lena Horne performed there when Central Avenue was the heart of the LA jazz scene in the 1930s and ’40s. People like W.E.B. Du Bois, Joe Louis and Ray Charles stayed at the Dunbar, which was listed in the Green Book guide for African-American travelers.
But as portrayed in the movie, the Dunbar was shuttered and a haven for the homeless by the 1970s, even though it was designated a Historic-Cultural Landmark in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The brick facade, grand entry and lobby have been preserved, but the hotel is now a residential community development called Dunbar Village.
If you don’t mind F-bombs dropping fast and furious, “Dolemite Is My Name” easily ranks as one of funniest movies of the year.