The world premiere of “Dolemite Is My Name” began on Saturday night with Toronto Film Festival creative director Cameron Bailey pleading with the crowd to stop cheering for Eddie Murphy because “we do want to show the movie.”
It ended a couple of hours later with a post-screening Q&A in which “Dolemite” co-star Keegan-Michael Key said that Murphy was his comic hero and added, “We should just stand all night and clap for him.”
It was that kind of evening: a raucous crowd going nuts for Eddie Murphy in the wild and entertaining film that plays like a blaxploitation riff on movies like “Ed Wood” and “The Disaster Artist.” The film is a love letter to Rudy Ray Moore, a pioneering standup comic and spectacularly influential but occasionally inept 1970s guerilla filmmaker. Moore’s profane rhymes helped inspire rap music and his low-budget films, including his 1975 debut “Dolemite,” found a huge African-American audience.
“You may not have any money,” said director Craig Brewer when he introduced the film in the Princess of Wales Theatre. “You may not have any talent. But you never know – something you make may become a classic of cinema – and I do mean cinema.”
The TIFF audience, though, was there less for cinema than for fun. They hooted and hollered when the film began with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and when Snoop Dogg appeared in the first scene as a record-store deejay. They did the same in the opening credits for Murphy, for most of the other actors, for costume designer Ruth E. Carter, for writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and for director Brewer.
The supporting cast is large and varied (though Wesley Snipes steals a few scenes), but “Dolemite” is the Eddie Murphy show, with the comic delivering his most substantial and spirited performance in many years. “I just felt that his story was really funny and inspiring,” he said in the Q&A afterwards. “I’ve been a fan of his for years and years.”
Writers Alexander and Karaszewski said they discovered Moore when they were at USC film school and obsessed over the trailer to Moore’s “The Human Tornado.” About 16 years ago, Murphy asked to meet with them and told them how much he loved their script to “Ed Wood.” In that conversation, added Karaszewski, “He said, ‘Do you know who Rudy Ray Moore is?’ ‘F— yes, we know who Rudy Ray Moore is!’”
They agreed to work on a film together, but couldn’t get a studio interested. It was only after Alexander and Karaszewski wrote and produced the miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson” that they realized they might have acquired the clout to “sneak in a little passion project,” which happened when Netflix agreed to back the movie at the first meeting.
Brewer, a Memphis-based director whose other films include the Oscar-winning “Hustle and Flow,” got on board with a pretty straightforward approach — and one that fit with the tone of the whole evening.
“The best plan,” he said, “was to let Eddie do this thing.”