'Dolemite Is My Name' Review: Eddie Murphy's Triumphant Return Is A Big Winner [TIFF 2019]

As the saying goes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Eddie Murphy was never really "gone" in the literal sense, but the once megastar comedian had a serious drop-off, quality-wise, over the years. It got to the point where a new Eddie Murphy movie was so rare as to be non-existent. Every now and then, the actor would appear in something heralded as his "comeback" – see his wonderful supporting turn in Dreamgirls. But nothing truly clicked. Now, things might be about to change for the better. Because Murphy is front and center in the laugh-out-loud crowd-pleaser Dolemite Is My Name, and it's an absolute joy to have him back.

Dolemite Is My Name is the result of a script from Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the duo who penned Ed Wood. In turn, you can think of Dolemite as a kind of blaxploitation Ed Wood, as it follows the same joyous "let's put on a show!" mentality. Like Wood, Murphy's Rudy Ray Moore has been on the outskirts of the entertainment industry for most of his life, waiting for his big break. He knows he was born to be a star – even if no one else agrees with him. Tired of sitting around waiting for his big break, Rudy decides to take matters into his own hands.

Rudy once had a career recording songs – but no one wants to play his tunes anymore. Now he slums it as an MC at a comedy club where no one laughs at his jokes. But after one day overhearing a string of vulgar, rhyme-based jokes from a local vagrant (Ron Cephas Jones) – the type of joke-rhymes that have been popular on the streets for decades – a lightbulb goes off above Rudy's head. He'll take this material, finesse it a bit, and create his own new on-stage persona: a jive-talking pimp named Dolemite. "Dolemite is my name," he shouts in his act, "and f***in' up motherf***ers is my game!"

The act is a hit in Rudy's neighborhood, and soon he's out there recording his own comedy album. The album is an underground fave but eventually comes to the attention of more legitimate producers, who help launch Rudy into further stardom. But it's still not enough. Sure, Rudy is popular locally, and he's earning some cash. But he wants to be known all over the country, not just in Los Angeles. The solution is simple – at least in Rudy's mind. He'll make a Dolemite movie.

And since Rudy's vision is the type of movie no major studio wants to finance, Rudy takes matters into his own hands yet again: he'll finance the picture himself, and fill the cast with his friends. To lend a bit of legitimacy to the project, he recruits D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) – an established actor – to both direct and co-star in the flick. Snipes goes big here, playing Martin in a perpetual state of disbelief. Some might find that Snipes's performance goes over-the-top, but this over-the-topness lends itself perfectly to the situation. Watching Snipes and Murphy bounce off each other is a hoot, and the only complaint here is that they don't share more screentime together.

Once all the pieces are in place, Rudy and the gang are off to the races, producing a riotous, absurdist blaxploitation pic about pimp and nightclub owner Dolemite. But it won't be easy – they'll have fight and claw every step of the way to get the movie finished, pinching every last penny and cutting every last corner just to get the thing in the can.

Alexander and Karaszewksi's script, and director Craig Brewer, cram a ton of time and info into a brisk narrative, one that zooms from one comical situation to the next. The breezy, often sweet-natured story wraps around you like a warm blanket – this movie truly is a treat to watch. One gets the sense that the script is omitting a lot of info in order to make the story more palatable to wider audiences, but so what? The end result is so successful that you can't help buying what Dolemite Is My Name is selling.

The key to the film's success is Murphy, who does not just the best work he's done in decades, but also arguably the best work of his career. The actor is on fire here, constantly cracking wise with motormouth aplomb. Nearly every single line Murphy delivers lands – and lands spectacularly. Don't be surprised if you find yourself short of breath from laughing at times.

It helps that beneath all the vulgarity and bravado is a genuinely sweet nature. Dolemite Is My Name presents Rudy Ray Moore as a legitimately nice guy – someone who wants to make it big, but also isn't dictated by his ego. Sure, he thinks he's got talent, but he's also willing to make himself look silly to prove it. Rudy doesn't hold back – he lets it all hang out. And he cares about the people around him, too. Especially Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), a former back-up singer he meets in a club one night. Rudy helps her launch her career as a comedian, and lands her a juicy role in the film, even though she's full of self-doubt – mostly due to her physical appereance. One of the sweetest moments in the film – we're talking "so sweet it's going to make you shed a tear or two" – arrives when Lady Reed offers a heartfelt thank you to Rudy for helping her out. "I've never seen anyone who looks like me on a movie screen before," she tells him with heartfelt gratitude. Randolph is sensational in the role, and if there's any justice in the film world, this part will help her break out into even bigger things.

For the last several years, Eddie Murphy has languished on the outskirts of cinema for far too long. Having him back on screen and in charge here is as refreshing as a cold glass of water on a sweltering day, or the first chilly fall breeze arriving at the tail-end of the dog days of summer. Dolemite Is My Name makes it official: Eddie Murphy is back. Here's hoping he doesn't go away again.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10