Rudy Ray Moore may be the most influential entertainer who is not exactly a household name. The actor, comedian, musician, singer and film producer is best known under his stage name Dolemite, his motor-mouthed pimp persona from the 1975 film “Dolemite.” Featuring a mix of clumsy kung fu action, flashy clothes and sexually explicit dialogue and action, it has a well-earned a reputation as one of the best bad movies ever made.
No one will ever confuse the “Dolemite” movie or its sequels “The Human Tornado” and “The Return of Dolemite” with great art, but the character, vividly brought to life by Eddie Murphy in the new biopic “Dolemite is My Name,” was a trailblazer. His vocal delivery, a blend of braggadocio and raunchy rhymes, was a direct influence on hip hop pioneers like Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and 2 Live Crew, setting the template for a generation of rappers.
The new film, directed by “Hustle and Flow’s” Craig Brewer, is the story of how Moore became Dolemite but it’s also about an outsider who created his own path to stardom. Like “The Disaster Artist” or “Ed Wood” it’s about the power of a person to make their dreams come true.
When we first meet Moore he’s assistant managing Dolphin’s of Hollywood one of the first African-American-owned record stores in Los Angeles by day and flopping as an MC in the clubs by night. He’s what they called an all-in-one-act. He sings, dances and tells corny jokes that start with lines like, “What did the Elephant say to the man?”
It isn’t until he finds inspiration in the tall tales told by Ricco (Ron Cephas Jones), a homeless man who hangs around the shop. “I ain’t no hobo,” he announces. “I am a repository of African-American folklore.” Ricco tells hilarious stories of “the baddest m*****rf***er who ever lived, Dolemite,” giving Moore just what he needs, an act like no one has ever seen before. Dolemite, complete with rhyming street poetry, wild 70s fashion and enough obscenity to make Lenny Bruce blush, is an instant hit. Audiences love it and soon Moore is making raunchy, self-produced records that hit the Billboard charts despite having to be sold under-the-counter because of their filthy covers and subject matter.
The inspiration to bring Dolemite to the big screen comes after Moore and friends take in a screening of Billy Wilder’s 1974 comedy “The Front Page.” The mostly white audience eats it up, yukking it up throughout while Rudy and his friends stare at the screen, stone faced. “That movie had no funny, no t**ties, and no Kung Fu,” he says. “The stuff people like us want to see.” He hires D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) and playwright Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) and self-finances a movie about a pimp who takes revenge on the criminals and corrupt police officers who framed him. The result is a playful, over-the-top jumble of kung fu fighting, low rent action and sexy, sexy good times that becomes a word-of-mouth hit. “All my life I’ve wanted to be famous,” Rudy says, “but this is more important. This is about connecting with people.”
“Dolemite is My Name” is a simple, very sweet movie about a very raunchy man. An inspirational story of outsiders who find an on ramp into the show biz life nobody else would offer them, it’s the tale of an independent man who doesn’t see problems, only solutions.
Murphy plays Moore with plenty of heart. It’s a live wire performance that brings to life the indefatigable spirit of a guy who thought big. “I want the world to know I exist,” he says, not only for himself but for his under-represented community.
“Dolemite is My Name,” from its wild costumes by Oscar-winning designer Ruth E. Carter, to the fun performances from Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, Keegan-Michael Key, Snoop Dogg, Craig Robinson and Da’Vine Joy Randolph in supporting roles, to the music and the comedy to the evocation of the 1970s, is an entertaining and heartening story of a life lived large.