Review – Dynamite! (“Dolemite Is My Name”)

He’s back! After a string of truly awful movies (Harlem Nights, Pluto Nash, Holy Man, A Thousand Words, Norbit) Eddie Murphy took a much needed break from his questionable film career and finally zeroed in on a script that looked like it might resurrect his once dominant movie career. Did it work?

Based on the real life adventures of singer, actor, and entrepreneur Rudy Ray Moore, Murphy shines once again as he inhabits this role with the gusto that he used to show in his better films. It’s the swingin’ 1970’s and Moore is a struggling down-on-his-luck kinda guy who longs for the lime-light, whether it’s on his non-selling vinyl records or at night emceeing at a local club. After hearing some street bums reciting vulgar, but delightful rap-poetry, he steals their material, spices it up, and invents an outrageous & flamboyant pimp-character called Dolemite as his new act. He’s an instant success!

Pretty soon his raunchy R-rated comedy albums are being sold like hotcakes and then picked up by a record company. While on tour in Mississippi, Moore meets Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) whom he adds to his act. His traveling nightclub act and album sales are now a huge success, but Moore sees $$$ in the movie business. Along with his buddies (Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, and Titus Burgess), he tracks down a screenwriter (Keegan-Michael Key), a semi-famous actor (Wesley Snipes) to direct his masterpiece, and gets a bunch of USC film students to run the camera, sound, and lighting.

It’s apparent that, besides not being an actor, Moore uses every ridiculous plot device in the book and throws it up on the screen: car crashes, shoot-outs, naked men & women, karate-chopping girls, F-bombs, the N-word, explosions, and black people beating up white guys, in a sense, everything that he knows his target audience will love. Using every dime he has and borrowing the rest, he risks it all to complete the film, but nobody will distribute the movie. Luckily, a radio DJ (Chris Rock) promotes the movie at a local theater in town and it makes a killing.

The rest, as they say, is history with Moore making seven more of some of the worst/funniest movies you’ve ever seen; think Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau and you’ll get the picture. Screenwriters Larry Karaszewski & Scott Alexander (Big Eyes, Goosebumps) have written a winning screenplay here that is more than just a docudrama, but an insightful, funny, and thoroughly engaging look at a real person who had delusions of grandeur and crazy thinking-outside-the-box ideas, and we’re all the better off for it. They also wrote Ed Wood, so they knew the subject matter!

Murphy, with a few added pounds, has finally picked a decent script and director to showcase his considerable talents. It’s an eerie “life imitating art intimating life” as Moore (or is it Murphy?) complaining about how people don’t want to see him anymore as an entertainer. His co-stars are just as good, if not better. Snipes steals every scene as the effeminate, lackadaisical director and Key’s scriptwriter is hilarious. Big, beautiful, and belting out a song, Randolph is damn fine and brings gravitas to the film. But shining the most is the director, Craig Brewer.

The problem with most of Murphy’s previous films – besides the dreadful scripts – has been the films’ directors. Brewer (Footloose-2011, The Legend of Tarzan) knew how to direct this movie without making it look dull, cheesy, or boring. The best parts are filming the ‘film crew’ and we can see the comedy timing in his direction. He’s also going to be directing Murphy again in the upcoming Coming 2 America movie.

For some fun, rent or stream some of Rudy Ray Moore’s movies. They are campy nonsense!

*streaming now on Netflix and in limited release in some theaters

Ed Wood (1994)

Before Tommy Wiseau, before Neil Breen, there was Ed Wood, master of the bad movie. One has to only watch his magnificently awful Plan 9 From Outer Space to see what horrible film making was all about. Terrible acting, extremely low-budget props (paper plate flying saucers!), a laughable script, and much more.

Directed with a very strange touch by Tim Burton, this semi-biography deals with Wood (Johnny Depp), a struggling film maker and closet transvestite in Hollywood, circa 1952. After meeting and befriending a washed-up Bela Lugosi (an incredible Martin Landau), he gets funding to make a low-budget film called Glen or Glenda, about a closet transvestite living with his girlfriend. He even got his real-life girlfriend, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), to star with him in the movie, based on himself.

But as the movie flops, Dolores introduces Ed to The Amazing Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), a TV psychic who Ed takes advice from. Next comes the hilariously bad Bride of the Monster, which only gets made because some meat packing tycoon’s son gets the leading role in the picture! More actors and weirdos start to populate Ed’s world as his movie making career starts to explode. Lugosi, acting strange and doing drugs, is Ed’s only real “star” for his audience draw, and his newest picture, Plan 9 From Outer Space, plans to be his biggest yet… until Lugosi dies midway during filming.

Ed, not stopping for production, quickly substitutes Dolores’ chiropractor for Lugosi in a few scenes (his face is covered) and the audience will never know! Spoiler alert: they knew! Burton and Depp prove to be a formidable team here as this movie captures the quirky Burton-esque style of film-making with Depp’s chameleon acting. But the real dessert in this magical meal is Landau as Lugosi, which won him a much deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar…  and a Best Makeup Oscar for Rick Baker for his Lugosi prosthetics.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote this brilliant script based on their own personal Ed Wood biopic which they wrote while at USC film school. Pretty cool, huh? Shot in black & white by Burton, this is one of those odd-duck films that bombed at the box office, yet was hailed as a critical masterpiece by moviegoers. How exactly does that work? People and critics loved it, but it lost major $$$ for Disney? Go figure. Just like the hysterically laughable The Room, have some fun and rent/stream some of Ed Wood’s classic films to see what wonderfully awful film-making the real Ed Wood was all about.

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