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If clothes truly make the impersonation, Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) must decide whether his outfit is flashy enough to persuade a nightclub audience that he’s a streetwise pimp. Courtesy photo

Arts

‘Dolemite Is My Name’: Far out, man!

‘Dolemite Is My Name’

3.5 stars 

Starring:365体育投注 Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock

Rating: R, and you’d better believe it, for nudity, crude sexual content and relentless profanity

Biographical comedy is not for the faint of heart

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

365体育投注We love to learn about unlikely Hollywood success stories; they fuel Tinseltown’s image as the land of dreams and magic.

365体育投注Writer/director Robert Rodriguez made his feature film debut, 1992’s “El Mariachi,” on a budget of only $7,000 (!) … half of which he raised via stipends earned as a participant in experimental clinical drug trials.

365体育投注Steven Spielberg was only 17 when he began working as an unpaid clerical assistant in the Universal Studios editing department in the summer of 1964; four years later, his first professional short subject, “Ambin’,” impressed studio vice president Sidney Sheinberg enough to offer Spielberg a seven-year directing contract.

Rudy Ray Moore’s saga belongs in their company.

365体育投注His unlikely career is profiled — more or less accurately — in “Dolemite Is My Name,” an unapologetically raucous and profane biographical comedy/drama from director Craig Brewer. The Netflix original boasts an impressively nuanced performance from star Eddie Murphy: an on-the-nose casting choice, given that — like Moore — he’s also an industry Comeback Kid, having risen from the ashes of his own imprudent career decisions.

Moore and his “Dolemite” persona are likely to be recognized or remembered only by cinema buffs who devoured the 1970s blaxploitation flicks. As with the concurrent kung fu phase, many (most?) such films were made on microscopic budgets, and typified by shoddy special effects, clumsy scripting and atrocious acting. Fans couldn’t have cared less; such guerilla filmmaking inevitably came with an anti-establishment attitude and visceral degree of energy that made them, well, fun.

(If only in the sense of guilty pleasures.)

Scripters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski don’t shy from the eyebrow-raising coarseness of Moore’s personality, which is to be commended; there’s really no other way to depict his unlikely career with anything approaching authenticity. Murphy, in turn, radiates the charisma and unrelenting — often foolish — persistence with which Moore pursued his improbable dreams.

Murphy also isn’t afraid to embrace Moore’s physical limitations, including the potbelly that made him the world’s least likely film star.

But that comes later.

365体育投注Rudy is introduced in 1970 as a fortysomething has-been, working as an assistant manager at a Los Angeles record store, having failed to become a recording artist. He’s also a failed stand-up comic, demoted to serving as emcee at a local nightclub. We meet him as he tries to hustle good friend and radio DJ Roj (Snoop Dogg) into spinning one of his early 45s: a scorching, profanity-laced plea that falls on deaf ears.

(This brief scene serves as a warning for prudish viewers, who — if outraged or appalled — are advised to check out. ’Cause things only get more vulgar.)

Discouraged but not defeated, Rudy’s attention is drawn to a local wino’s hilariously obscene, rhyme- and rhythm-laden stories about the sexual and violent exploits of a fictitious street pimp dubbed “Dolemite.” Each yarn is more crude and coarse than the one before, and Rudy has an epiphany: After recording and refining the material, and finding suitably flamboyant apparel, he turns Dolemite into a stand-up persona.

365体育投注And wows the nightclub crowd during his next emcee appearance.

(Two off-camera comments: One, yes, Moore built his career on material “stolen” from somebody else … so what else is new? Two, this very365体育投注 early display of rhyming street poetry has, decades later, earned Moore well-deserved accolades as “the Godfather of rap.”)

With the help of good friends Jimmy (Mike Epps), Ben (Craig Robinson) and Toney (Tituss Burgess), Rudy records an album of Dolemite material … in his living room. No label will touch the result, which is far365体育投注 too racy for mainstream release. (This was a time when the word “crap” was routinely bleeped during radio play of Paul Simon’s hit song, “Kodachrome.”)

Undeterred, Rudy starts selling them — under the counter — from his record store, and, literally, from the trunk of his car. When it becomes obvious that everybody in the neighborhood is listening to the album, combined with the wrap-around-the-block lines waiting to see his nightclub routine, Rudy comes to the attention of Kent Records.

In yet another example of the wildly colorful characters populating this saga, the regional indie label is run by four excitable Hungarian brothers: Joseph (Aleksandar Filimonovic), Julius (Ivo Nanci), Lester (Michael Peter Bolus) and Saul Bihari (Kazy Tauginas). Squabbling amongst themselves, but nonetheless smelling opportunity, they take a chance on Rudy.

365体育投注Most folks would have been satisfied with what follows, during the next few years … but not Rudy Ray Moore. Vexed by the fact that his albums — and stage act — never stray beyond inner-city boundaries, he craves broader mainstream attention. Given that such exposure occurs only via country-spanning movie theaters, he embarks on an even crazier plan.

In what can only be described as the 1970s equivalent of the (fictitious) Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” cliché, Rudy and his friends decide to make a movie.

365体育投注Never mind their lack of experience. Or money. Or equipment.

365体育投注The cast expands again at this point, starting with Wesley Snipes’ hilarious performance as D’Urville Martin, an established actor with numerous film and TV credits, and a correspondingly condescending attitude. He rebuffs the offer to co-star as the villain in the gestating “Dolemite” movie … until Rudy sweetens the deal by allowing Martin to direct.

Snipes’ slow, long-suffering takes — as events proceed — prove a delightful contrast to Murphy’s eager-beaver portrayal of Rudy.

365体育投注Da’Vine Joy Randolph brings a welcome note of earnestness as Lady Reed, a Mississippi single mother who joins the entourage as singer and foil for Rudy’s stand-up act. Randolph has a touching, down-to-earth warmth that turns Lady Reed into something of a den mother for this motley gang.

365体育投注Keegan-Michael Key is amusing as the frequently perplexed Jerry Jones, an acting coach and serious playwright; his efforts to craft a script laden with social relevance are undercut by Rudy’s demand that he include pimps, hookers, kung fu, car chases and lots of bared breasts.

Jerry’s connections encourage the participation of some (white) UCLA film students, led by Nicholas “Nick” Josef von Sternberg (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as a gonzo cinematographer. Smit-McPhee projects solicitous — if wide-eyed — equanimity, despite the increasingly dog-nuts challenges Nick faces. He also gets one of the film’s best lines, delivered with straight-faced sincerity:

365体育投注“There is no such angle.”

365体育投注You’ll die laughing when that one lands.

The crazy-quilt atmosphere and attention to period detail — and rag-tag moviemaking — notwithstanding, production designer Clay A. Griffth and cinematographer Eric Steelberg take their assignments seriously. Everything looks, sounds and feels authentic to the early 1970s setting. The colorful and rigorously accurate street clothes, along with Dolemite’s flashy outfits, come courtesy of no less than Ruth E. Carter, a recent Oscar winner for “Black Panther.”

The result is a romp, start to finish; the cherry on top comes during the end credits, which feature clips from 1975’s “Dolemite” … at which point we get indisputable evidence that Brewer, Alexander, Karaszewski and this film’s cast haven’t exaggerated much.

Groovy. In the best possible way.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at redaslaoui.com.

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