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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

DOLEMITE -- Blu-ray/DVD Review by Porfle

If the 70s were heroin, DOLEMITE (1975) would be an O.D.  This is one of the quintessential Blaxploitation flicks of the decade, and it revels in the era's day-glo tackiness with an avalanche of pure kitsch.

Rudy Ray Moore takes his popular comedy act to the screen with the character of super bad-ass pimp Dolemite, serving a bum rap in prison but released in order to redeem himself by bringing the real criminals terrorizing his neighborhood to justice.

This includes current pimp lord Willie Green (D'Urville Martin, ROSEMARY'S BABY, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, SHEBA BABY, BLACK CAESAR), who framed Dolemite and took over his nightclub, The Total Experience.  When Dolemite and Willie go at it head to head, the whole hood erupts in intermittent bursts of shooting, pummeling, extreme profanity ("You rat-soup-eatin' mutha****er!"), and really unconvincing martial arts choreography.

The film is chockful of gloriously bad acting, with the occasional good performance (Hy Pyke, who played "Taffey Lewis" in 1982's BLADE RUNNER is a crooked mayor) standing out like a sore thumb.  Moore and his co-star Lady Reed as madam Queen Bee are unpolished to say the least, but thoroughly earnest and into their roles. 

Along with the standard black crime boss come the requisite bad honkeys, who are, unsurprisingly, crooked cops representing The Man.  They're led by another capable actor, John Kerry (no, not THAT John Kerry), as the vile Detective Mitchell.  Scripter Jerry Jones is good black cop Blakely, while Vainus Rackstraw steals his scenes as a drug-addled informant known as "The Hamburger Pimp."

The script veers easily from drama to comedy and back.  After we hear the tragic story of how Dolemite's nephew was gunned down in the street and the whole neighborhood's going to hell, Dolemite's "ladies" bring him his colorful pimp clothes at the prison gate and he changes into them while the guards and inmates look on with mouths agape.

Minutes later he cheerfully ventilates some bad guys who were tailing his car with a machine gun, making the last one dance ("Girls, this muthaf***er's got rhythm, hasn't he!") before blowing him away.

Of course, Moore gets to perform some of his rhyming comedy routines during the film, as when he reopens his nightclub with a big event that quickly degenerates into all-out war with Dolemite and his kung-fu ho's (they've been studying martial arts while he was away) taking on Willie Green's pistol-packing thugs.

The film is loaded with vulgar sexuality and plenty of violence, although we're spared the sight of what appears to be Dolemite plunging his hand into someone's chest by a crude edit.  Production values are conspicuously low.  First-time director D'Urville Martin reportedly didn't take the project very seriously and it shows.  The overall look of the film is delightfully garish, with Moore himself credited as set designer.

The Blu-ray/DVD set from Vinegar Syndrome offers the feature film, which is restored from a newly-discovered 35mm negative, in both 1.85:1 matted widescreen and unmatted full screen (called the "Boom Mike" version for obvious reasons). An informative commentary by Rudy Ray Moore biographer Mark Jason Murray also includes comments from Moore and actor-writer Jerry Jones. 

Extras also include the making-of doc "I, Dolemite", raw footage from an interview with Lady Reed, a "Locations: Then & Now" featurette, and trailers for this and the sequel, "The Human Tornado." The DVD's cover artwork is reversible.

Back before home video and cable made such things commonplace even for kids, an "R" rating before a movie made us feel like we were really going to see something.  In achingly, blazingly 70s style, the unabashedly irreverent DOLEMITE delivers on that promise.

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