Remember Tower Heist? If you remember this 2011 Brett Ratner movie as anything, it’s probably as an average heist movie that’s not the worst thing to watch on cable when there’s nothing else on. But, for awhile there, before the movie came out, Tower Heist became second hand for, “Oh, wait until you see Tower Heist because Eddie Murphy is BACK.” This was also around the same time Murphy had agreed to host the upcoming Academy Awards and we were officially living in the Eddie Murphy renaissance. But then Murphy bowed out of Oscar hosting duties (it seems like he may have been ahead of his time in respects to not wanting to host an awards show) and Tower Heist came out and Murphy was … fine. Yeah, sure, Eddie’s playing a wisecracking con man (named “Slide”), so that at least reminded us of Eddie’s ‘80s movies, but it wasn’t his movie. And all of the other parts around him didn’t add up into anything we’d particularly remember.
It’s weird to think back to Tower Heist because we were told Eddie was back, but then that movie came and went, Billy Crystal wound up hosting the Oscars, and Murphy would only appear in two films in the eight years after. The most prolific thing Eddie Murphy would do in the time in-between then and now is walk on stage at SNL’s 40th anniversary show, say a couple of pleasantries, then disappear again.
So, yes, you have to excuse some of us who feel, maybe, we’ve seen this one before when, now, again, we are hearing that Eddie Murphy is back. Eddie has a new movie with a lot of buzz, Dolemite Is My Name, and he’s slated to host the SNL in December. This is all eerily similar!
Well, with one big difference: Dolemite Is My Name is sensational and Murphy is electric in it. No, this isn’t the Tower Heist letdown. Murphy absolutely delivers in one of the greatest performances of his career.
In Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name (based on a true story), Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, an aging, failing singer and comedian who takes one last shot at stardom by adopting the persona of Dolemite – a character a local homeless man would always be talking about while holding court – and producing a series of, let’s say, risqué comedy records. The records become a hit, and Rudy parleys his earnings from those into making his dream movie, starring, of course, himself.
This movie eventually becomes Dolemite, now considered a classic of Blaxploitation cinema (it’s streaming on Amazon as of this writing), which wound up spawning several sequels. (This movie plays a little loose with the timeline, showing scenes being filmed that don’t happen until future Dolemite sequels, but, whatever.) Rudy and his now assembled crew eventually approach D’Urville Martin (played by a wonderful Wesley Snipes)to direct — so here’s D’Urville, approaching this whole production like an auteur, even though the whole thing is being held together by the thinnest of strings. And there’s Murphy, a triumph as Rudy Ray Moore, holding all those strings together to the best of his ability and never doubting that his movie will be a hit. Well, that doesn’t happen, not at first anyway: no one really wants it. So there’s Eddie again, going into almost full ‘80s mode, hustling his film to anyone who will listen, never giving up hope. Man, I miss this Eddie.
Maybe Eddie was bored? Maybe Eddie decided he needed a challenge? When Murphy was on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, the two briefly talked about what enormous success and money do to a comic’s material. Did Murphy lose an edge? Maybe? Probably? In a way, how could it not? Eddie Murphy became one of the most famous people on the planet.
But it’s interesting that he found his muse in Rudy Ray Moore, a guy at rock bottom whose biggest wish in the world is to be famous, played by someone who knows exactly what that’s like. In this role, he somehow channeled his former self, that 18-year-old kid who called up SNL, pretty much just telling them he wanted to be on the show. Eddie Murphy has captured lightning in a bottle with Rudy Ray Moore and I sure hope this trend continues. It’s an Eddie Murphy who looks … hungry.