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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The Golden Age of Eddie Murphy Cinema occurred between 1982 and 1988, with the release of such classics as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

Since then, he’s had some great moments (Dreamgirls, Life, The Nutty Professor)—but he’s had plenty more duds. His forays into “family entertainment” included his enjoyable voice work in the Shrek films, but also included dreck like The Haunted Mansion, Daddy Day Care and Imagine That.

And then, of course, there was Vampire in Brooklyn. I’m still recovering from that one.

It was as if Eddie, the amazing movie comedian, went into hiding for more than three decades. That’s a long time.

Well, Eddie Murphy is back: Dolemite Is My Name is a movie that can stand side by side with the best of Murphy’s Golden Age. It’s a consistently funny biopic honoring comedian-actor Rudy Ray Moore, and it’s clear Murphy’s heart is in this project full-force. It’s the best performance he’s ever delivered in a movie. Period.

The film takes us on a tour of Moore’s rise to fame, starting with the creation of his Dolemite character (a campy hybrid of Shaft and Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch), and his poetically profane comedy albums. Moore mixed profanity with rhyming in ways that have earned him a “godfather of rap” moniker, with rap giants like Snoop Dogg (who appears in this film as a record-store DJ) saying they wouldn’t have careers if it weren’t for the F-word maestro. Clearly, Moore also helped lay the groundwork for the likes of Murphy and his standup greatness. This makes it all the more appropriate that Eddie Murphy headlines this movie. Murphy, playing Moore, finds himself in a movie like those from his early days—a movie that is consistently funny, powered by Murphy’s infectious charisma.

Quite frankly, I’d forgotten that Murphy could command a film so completely. Whether he’s re-creating terrible kung fu antics or reacting uncomfortably as a studio guy rejects his movie, Murphy shows that he indeed remains one of the greatest screen talents alive. I must make this perfectly clear: Murphy is awesome in this movie.

Craig Brewer, directing from a script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, captures the look of the 1970s and blaxploitation with big collared shirts, pimp hats and fat furs. The re-creations of the actual Dolemite movie (currently available for streaming on Amazon—and it’s glorious on all fronts) are hilariously accurate. Brewer helps Murphy—an extremely confident comedic performer with a lot happening under the surface—capture the essence of Moore. Murphy doesn’t hit a false note in this movie, showing us a brash comic who rises to fame on the wings of the best dirty jokes in the land—and an undying desire to be famous.

Helping things mightily is a supporting cast that includes Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key and, most wonderfully, Wesley Snipes, in the scene-stealing role of the original Dolemite director, D’Urville Martin. Snipes—who looks like a day hasn’t passed since White Men Can’t Jump, and that’s just not fair—hasn’t had an opportunity to shine like this in decades. This film marks his grand return to form; he’s a total crack-up in the role.

As for the return of Murphy, this is just the start: He’s currently working on sequels to Coming to America (also directed by Brewer) and Beverly Hills Cop, and is preparing for a return to Saturday Night Live as a host. (He’s going to do Gumby and Buckwheat again!) Most incredibly, he’s reportedly making a return to the standup stage. If Dolemite Is My Name is any indication, he hasn’t lost a step, and we could be looking at a second Golden Age of Murphy.

Dolemite Is My Name is now streaming on Netflix; it’s also playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Spike Lee presents what is easily his most-ambitious film in more than a decade with Chi-Raq, a wild adaptation of the Greek play Lysistrata set in modern-day Chicago.

Lee casts old pal Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator (of course) and utilizes a rhyming script and stellar cast to postulate what would happen with gang violence in Chicago if all the women withheld sex. The play was crazy—and the movie is crazy.

While the tone is all over the place, the setup gives Lee a chance to do some of his funniest screen work since the humorous interludes in Do the Right Thing. There’s a scene in which Dave Chappelle (Yes, that Dave Chappelle!) plays a strip club owner that might be the funniest thing Lee has ever done. Chappelle needs to do some more acting, because he smokes his one scene.

Teyonah Parris shines as Lysistrata, leader of the female movement and girlfriend of gangsta-rapper Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon). You’ll also find Wesley Snipes in fine form as rival gang leader Cyclops, Angela Bassett as elder stateswoman Miss Helen, D.B. Sweeney as the crazed mayor, and a revved-up John Cusack as Father Mike Corridan. Everybody does good work in the service of a mostly fun screenplay.

The film is flawed. Some of Lee’s sloppy tendencies sneak in, and not all of the jokes work. Some of those film’s shifts into more-serious happenings are awkward. But when the movie is working, it shows that perhaps the real Spike Lee was just hibernating with some of his mediocre recent efforts. It’s great to see him back in fearless-auteur mode.

Chi-Raq is available on demand and via online sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Sylvester Stallone and his awesome band of old crows take some major missteps in The Expendables 3—an unfortunate leap backward for the aging-action-star franchise.

Stallone and company jettisoned the smarmy Bruce Willis in favor of the growly Harrison Ford, and this is a great change. They also added Wesley Snipes as Doctor Death, Antonio Banderas as fast-talking comic relief and, most notably, Mel Gibson playing himself (aka The World’s Biggest Asshole).

Stallone and director Patrick Hughes should’ve stopped right there and given the group (which also includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and many others) a decent script. This is a sufficient cast for any action movie—so get cracking with the pyrotechnics, and focus on a story that makes sense!

Alas, that didn’t happen. Perhaps because the production could only afford the big guys for a minimal amount of time, the script has Stallone’s Barney Ross putting the old guys on ice after the first 30 minutes in favor of a new, mostly younger crew—and most of that new crew is uninteresting and lacks the charisma of their older counterparts. Too much screen time is given to the likes of mixed martial arts superstar Ronda Rousey, who can most certainly kick the shit out of people, but can’t act for squat. Names like Kellan Lutz (the Twilight films) and boxer Victor Ortiz round out the boring faction of the new cast.

The plot is a mish-mosh of action-movie clichés, as Barney finds himself gathering the new team to go up against Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable turned arms dealer and bad guy. Gibson gets a couple of scenes to show off his catcher’s-glove face (seriously … stop smoking, Mel!) and act all crazy.

After some tedious scenes introducing the new crew (featuring Kelsey Grammer, of all people), Barney eventually lets the old guys back into the movie, and this results in a halfway-decent finale during which many things blow up. It also has a typical showdown between Barney’s good guy and Stonebanks, during which the villain gets the upper hand, yet throws away his weapon in favor of hand-to-hand combat. Gibson vs. Stallone is a bit outlandish, even if Stallone is something like 95 years old.

I did like the sight of Harrison Ford piloting a helicopter, Han Solo-style, and Snipes is fun in his few scenes. The screenplay has a lot of inside jokes about his tax-evasion jail sentence that warrant a chuckle or two. Dolph Lundgren’s “Sore Loser” T-shirt also put a smile on my face, as did Terry Crews, once again letting loose with his really big gun.

I don’t understand the Jason Statham phenomenon. He’s been OK in a couple of films, but most of the stuff he slums in is trash. I’m sort of grateful that this movie puts him into more of a background role.

In an effort to give the film more earnings potential, it was made for a PG-13 rating (while the previous installments were R-rated). Dumb move. The target audience for this sort of stuff likes movies filled with bloody carnage and F-bombs. This boneheaded move, along with a pirated copy of the film that has been downloaded by millions, resulted in The Expendables 3 having a bad box-office opening.

Unless this movie catches fire overseas, the franchise may be in jeopardy. If you can’t get it done in the third installment, you are usually toast in Hollywood.

The Expendables 3 is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews