‘Dolemite Is My Name’ review: Eddie Murphy is officially back

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“Dolemite Is My Name” kicks off the Eddie Murphy renaissance that’s been a very long time coming. And this comic biopic is a blast from start to finish. As ’70s cult comedian Rudy Ray Moore, Murphy is on his game in a way we haven’t seen since two decades ago, in his dual roles in Steve Martin’s “Bowfinger.”

This Craig Brewer film is only Step 1 in Murphy’s return, with a buzzy upcoming hosting gig on “SNL” and a return to stand-up in the works. But it all starts with his portrayal of the hilariously trash-talking, cult favorite Moore — “Dolemite is my name, and f - - kin’ up motherf - - kers is my game,” as his mantra goes.

A scrappy singer and comic who tried to make a name for himself in other guises, Moore found success on the club circuit with the Dolemite character, a rhyming, rapping riff on blaxploitation heroes of the era like Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. I’d love to relay some of his jokes, but none work in a family newspaper.

Moore’s moxie and verbal dexterity play so perfectly to Murphy’s strengths that you can’t help being reminded of some of the actor’s formative roles. He’s in his element, and he looks downright ecstatic.

The rest of the cast shines as well, thanks in part to costume designer Ruth Carter (“Black Panther”), working with a riot of colorful period clothes that should earn her another Oscar. I’ve heard rumors of Murphy being difficult to work with, but Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps and Tituss Burgess — plus cameos from Snoop Dogg, Chris Rock and Luenell — all seem to be having a blast, or else they’re doing first-rate acting on not one but two levels.

“Dolemite” never lacks for energy, but it really picks up when Murphy’s Moore scrapes together enough money to make a film — inspired after seeing a white comedy in which he observes that, tragically, there’s “no t - - ties, no funny, no kung fu.” He aims to rectify all three. (As a once-devoted fan of Murphy’s ’80s stand-up that’s now pretty cringey, I found the movie’s general good-naturedness, including toward women, to be a welcome change of tone.)

Enlisting his friends as co-stars and actor D’Urville Martin (Snipes) to direct, Moore shoots on a shoestring budget in a rundown warehouse, making up in bravado and verbal gymnastics what he lacks in money. The climactic moment, so to speak, is the filming of a Dolemite love scene, which Moore’s close friend and protégée Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) convinces him could be both sexy and funny. Cut to: strings propelling framed pictures up and down on the walls and Robinson’s character shaking the bed frame while Dolemite and his lady friend writhe under the covers, literally bringing pieces of the house (fortunately, light ones) down on top of them.

The Academy Awards are notoriously snobby about comedies, but a really good one is hard to come by. “Dolemite Is My Name” is a painstakingly shot, deliriously funny piece of work, an ode to a striver who fought tooth and nail to win his eventual cult following, and a great celebration of Murphy returning to the spotlight.

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