The Golden Age of Eddie Murphy Cinema occurred between the years of 1982 and 1988 with the release of such classics as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.
Since ’88, he’s had his moments (Dreamgirls, Life, The Nutty Professor) but he’s had plenty more duds. His regrettable forays into “family entertainment,” while including his enjoyable voice work in Shrek films, also included dreck like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Imagine That. And then, of course, there was Vampire in Brooklyn. Still recovering from that one.
It was as if Eddie, the magical movie comedian, went into hiding for over three decades.
Dolemite Is My Name is a movie that can stand side by side with the best of Murphy’s Golden Age. A consistently funny biopic honoring comedian-actor Rudy Ray Moore, it’s clear that Murphy’s heart is in this project full force. It’s the best performance he’s ever delivered in a movie … period.
The film takes us on a tour of Moore’s rise to fame, starting with the creation of his Dolemite character (a campy hybrid of Shaft and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch), and his poetically profane comedy albums. Moore mixed profanity with rhyming in ways that have earned him a “godfather of rap” moniker, with rap giants like Snoop Dogg, who appears in this film as a record store DJ, saying they wouldn’t have careers if not for Moore. Clearly, Moore helped lay the groundwork for the likes of Murphy and his standup greatness as well.
Which makes it all the more appropriate that Eddie headlines this movie. Murphy, playing Moore, finds himself very much occupying a prototypical Eddie Murphy movie like those from his early days. It’s consistently funny and powered by Murphy’s infectious charisma.
Murphy is commanding in a way that, quite frankly, I forgot he was capable of. Whether he’s recreating some terrible Kung Fu antics, or reacting uncomfortably on the phone as a studio guy rejects his movie, Murphy shows that he indeed remains one of the greatest screen talents. I now must make this perfectly clear: Murphy is awesome in this movie.
Craig Brewer, directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, captures the look of the ’70s with big collared shirts, pimp hats and fat furs. The recreations of the actual Dolemite movie—currently available for streaming on Amazon and, let me also make this clear, glorious on all fronts—are hilariously accurate.
Brewer also captures the essence of Eddie Murphy, an extremely confident comedic performer with a lot happening under the surface. The man doesn’t hit a false note in this movie, showing us a brash comic who rises to fame on the wings of the best dirty jokes in the land and an undying desire to be famous.
Helping things mightily is a supporting cast that includes Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, most wonderfully, Wesley Snipes in a scene-stealing role as original Dolemite director, D’Urville Martin. Snipes—who looks like a day hasn’t passed since White Men Can’t Jump, and it’s just not fair—hasn’t had an opportunity to shine like this in decades, and this film marks his grand return to form as well. He’s a total crackup in the role.
As for the return of Murphy, this is just the start. He’s currently working on sequels to Coming to America, also directed by Brewer, and Beverly Hills Cop, preparing for a return to Saturday Night Live as host—he’s going to do Gumby and Buckwheat again!—and, most incredibly, a proposed return to the standup stage. If Dolemite Is My Name is any indication, he hasn’t lost a step, and we could see a Second Golden Age of Murphy.
(Dolemite Is My Name is streaming on Netflix during a limited theatrical release.)