Review: Eddie Murphy shines in vulgar, heartfelt 'Dolemite'

Eddie Murphy stars in "Dolemite Is My Name" on Netflix. 

Why do we love movies about bad filmmakers so much? From “Ed Wood” to “The Disaster Artist,” there’s something so endearing, even inspiring, about starry-eyed dreamers who think they can make a movie. They’re doing what they love, even if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Add “Dolemite Is My Name,” premiering last weekend on Netflix, to the list of great movies about not-so-great moviemakers. Wildly funny, raunchy and unabashedly sweet, it’s as close to a guaranteed good time as you can find on the streaming site lately, and provides Eddie Murphy with his best comic role since 2000’s “Bowfinger.”

Murphy, who also produced "Dolemite," has been trying for years to tell the story of Rudy Ray Moore, a 1970s R-rated comedian turned independent filmmaker. In the film, Moore is a struggling comedian and record store manager who can’t even get the DJ in his store (Snoop Dogg) to play his records. At the local comedy club, his tepid jokes are met with indifference.

Hearing the neighborhood drunks (the “liquor store wise men”) trade jokes on the corner, Moore hits upon an idea. He creates the character of Dolemite, a larger-than-life pimp character who speaks in boastful, profane rhymes Moore heard on the corner. Playing a character in a feathered hat and leopard-print suit allows Moore to hide his insecurities onstage, and Dolemite is a hit.

The first half of “Dolemite Is My Name” follows Moore’s rise as a comedian, touring African-American clubs, signing record deals and developing an entourage of loyal friends. But touring is exhausting, so Moore pursues bringing Dolemite to the big screen.

“Dolemite Is My Name” gets even better in the second half, as Moore mortgages himself to the hilt and hires a few film students to make his “Dolemite” film, a combination of blaxploitation crime thriller, low-brow sex comedy and kung fu epic. After watching the movie, I had to look up the original “Dolemite” trailer on YouTube to see if it really was as bizarre as depicted in “Dolemite Is My Name.” It was.

Murphy is as loose and funny onscreen as he’s ever been, but he also captures Moore’s quieter, less confident nature once the Dolemite suit comes off. He’s surrounded by a great supporting cast, including Keegan-Michael Key as the film’s writer, who mistakenly believes he’s making a serious drama, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a shy single mother who follows Moore’s lead and transforms into the brassy comedienne Queen Bee.

But the absolute standout is Wesley Snipes, who is a flat-out joy to watch as D’Urville Martin, a reputable character actor (he was the elevator operator in “Rosemary’s Baby”) who reluctantly agrees to star in and direct the Dolemite movie. Martin’s exasperation at the ramshackle film production he’s found himself in made me laugh every single time Snipes was on screen.

As much fun as “Dolemite Is My Name” is, the one drawback is that it’s only available to watch on streaming. This ode to the movies and the dreamers who make them is one that deserves to be seen in a packed theater.

Also on streaming: Another week, another new streaming service hoping for your subscription dollars. This time it’s the new Apple TV+, which launches Friday with a bunch of new shows, including the TV drama “The Morning Show” starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, and the Jason Momoa sci-fi drama “See.” A subscription is a relatively reasonable $4.99/month, and you get one year free if you purchase a new iPhone or iPad.

Coming Friday to Netflix is “American Son,” an adaptation of Christopher Demos-Brown’s acclaimed play about a woman (Kerry Washington) at a police station trying to find out the fate of her teenage son. The play’s original cast reprise all their roles for the feature film.

John Krasinski returns as “Jack Ryan” for Season Two of the Amazon Video series, also premiering Friday. This time Tom Clancy’s CIA hero goes to Venezuela to investigate rumors that Russia is providing nuclear arms to the country. The series looks like it has echoes of Clancy’s “Clear and Present Danger,” especially in a terrorist attack scene that pays homage to a similar attack in the 1994 Harrison Ford movie.

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Rob Thomas is the features editor and social media editor for the Capital Times, as well as its film critic. He joined the Cap Times in 1999 and has written about movies, music, food and books.