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Eddie Murphy has worked so rarely in recent years that it’s a pleasure to see him in even mediocre films, like 2016’s Mr. Church, to say nothing of good ones, like Dolemite Is My Name, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre as part of the Toronto International Film Festival and was very enthusiastically received.
Murphy’s latest star vehicle, which was directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), is reminiscent of the 58-year-old’s comedy classics in that it is best appreciated in a packed theater, where laughter tends to spread quickly. It is different from his prior work, though, in that the outlandish character that he plays in this film, Rudy Ray Moore, actually lived and conducted himself in much the same way that Murphy does in the film. The actor has never played a real person before.
Moore was a frustrated failure, of sorts, until the early 1970s, when, in his mid-40s, he reinvented himself and became a star as a profane, pimp-like comedian by the name of Dolemite, whose particular patter helped to give birth to rap, and whose portfolio ultimately expanded to include blaxploitation films and much more. (Moore died in 2008.)
In other words, Dolemite — of which Murphy is also a producer, and which also stars Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson and Keegan-Michael Key — joins that particular subgenre of films about fuck-ups who bumble their way into some measure of Hollywood success. Other entries include 1994’s Ed Wood (which was written by the same team that wrote Dolemite, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) and 2017’s The Disaster Artist, which strikes me as the best awards season comp.
The Disaster Artist‘s lead, James Franco, won comedy-specific Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards, but was passed over for an Oscar nom, unlike its script, which did receive Academy recognition. I can imagine a similar trajectory for Dolemite, along with perhaps a mention for Ruth E. Carter, the defending winner of the best costume design Oscar for Black Panther, for some very colorful and flashy outfits in this film. (Murphy’s only Oscar nom thus far came for 2006’s Dreamgirls; he was robbed of recognition for his multi-character turn in 1996’s The Nutty Professor.)
Dolemite will receive a limited theatrical release starting Oct. 14 before hitting Netflix shortly thereafter.
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