Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.
Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) is a struggling comedian and singer who hears stories about a black folklore character named “Dolemite”. He decides to perform as Dolemite, and becomes a big hit, touring and making comedy albums. He decides to make a movie starring Dolemite, borrowing money from his record company, and putting on a haphazard production since he has no experience. Unable to find anyone to distribute it, he falls into debt and is worse off than when he started. He pays a local theater on one of his tour stops to show the movie, and it sells out and is a huge hit. Dimension Pictures sees the returns and offers to distribute the movie, where it makes 10 million dollars.
In 1970s Los Angeles, Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) is a struggling artist working in a record store, trying to get his music on the air in the in-store radio station. At night, he moonlights as an MC for Ben Taylor (Craig Robinson) and his musical group at a club. He asks the owner of the club for some time doing comedy, but the owner turns him down. At the record store one day, a homeless man comes wandering in and begins making loud, rhyming proclamations; one of which includes the name “Dolemite”. Moore gets the idea to create a stage persona telling these stories at the club he works at. Dressing in pimp attire and brandishing a cane, Moore takes the stage at the club as Dolemite and launches into a crudely humorous and foul-mouthed routine titled “The Signifying Monkey”. Taylor and his group join him on-stage to back him up. The crowd applauds.
Moore asks his aunt (Luenell) for money to record a comedy album entitled “Eat Out More Often”. He gets his friend Jimmy Lynch (Mike Epps) to record him at his home in front of an audience. After making several copies of the record, Moore begins to sell them out of the trunk of his car. The record proves to be very popular, obtaining the attention of a record company who agree to market it to record stores. Moore offers to go on tour through the Deep South to promote the record. While in Mississippi, he meets a single mother named Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and convinces her to join him as part of his tour.
Moore and his friends celebrate the success of the tour by taking in a movie, The Front Page. The majority white audience of the theater finds the film hilarious but Moore and his friends do not enjoy the film. Moore gets the inspiration to make a film starring himself as Dolemite. After being turned down by a film executive (Tip “T.I.” Harris), Moore asks his record company for an advance on royalties from his album to fund the movie himself. The record executives agree to do so, but warn Moore if he fails that he will be in debt to them for the rest of his life.
Moore gets in contact with playwright Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) who, despite initial reluctance, agrees to write the screenplay. Moore and Taylor go to a strip club and find Rosemary’s Baby actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) and offer him a role in their Dolemite film. Martin is offended by their offer until Moore gives him the opportunity to direct the film himself. Moore and his friends convert an old, abandoned hotel into a makeshift soundstage. Jones invites a group of white film students from UCLA to work as the film’s crew, including Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as cinematographer.
Moore, Martin, Jones and crew begin filming Dolemite, a kung-fu-themed Blaxploitation film. Moore’s lack of knowledge of karate and predilection towards camp frustrates Martin. Despite much of the cast and crew having a lot of fun making the film, Martin leaves the crew after filming is completed, proclaiming the film will never be seen by anyone. No film distributor Moore contacts will agree to purchase the film. He decides to return to touring, though with much less enthusiasm. In Indiana, Moore is asked about the film’s release by a local DJ (Chris Rock) and remains noncommittal about whether the film will ever be seen. The DJ says that he could premiere the film in town with the right amount of promotion. Deciding to take him up on the offer, Moore promotes the film single-handedly all around town. Though he spends a lot of money on four wall distribution, Moore is pleased to see a massive crowd waiting outside the theater and the audience greatly enjoys the film.
A Hollywood film executive (Bob Odenkirk), whose studio Dimension Pictures had turned down Dolemite previously, finds out about the premiere in Indiana and contacts Moore with the promise of purchasing the film. Moore arrives at Dimension Pictures dressed as Dolemite along with Lady Reed and the crew dressed up as well. The executive says that although Moore could continue promoting the film himself, he would not see profits right away. However, Dimension Pictures could put the film in theaters and everyone would profit. Moore agrees and begins working on promoting the film professionally. En route to the Hollywood premiere of the film, Moore and the cast read critical reviews of the film that lower their spirits. Upon arrival, however, the group is astonished to see an even bigger crowd of people cheering for them outside the theater. While the cast and crew go inside the theater to see the film, Moore stays outside to entertain the crowd who have to wait for the next show.
The film’s epilogue notes that Rudy Ray Moore continued to tour and star in sequels to Dolemite until his death in 2008. He is today considered to be the “Godfather of Rap”. Footage from the real Dolemite is screened as well.
In the 1970s, Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) is a struggling comedian and singer who works at a record store and can’t seem to catch a break. When he hears a homeless man trading stories of “Dolemite”, a black folklore character, he decides to practice and perform as the character. When he performs as Dolemite, the audience loves it. He decides to record a comedy album on his own dime, with the help of his friends Jimmy (Mike Epps), Ben (Craig Robinson) and Toney (Tituss Burgess) – when he’s told it’s too filthy to publish, he self-publishes the album, and it’s a huge hit in the black community in Los Angeles. He is approached by record company owners the Bihari brothers, who prints a real album, which he begins touring with all over the country.
At one of his tour stops in Tallahassee, he sees a man hitting a woman, and her hitting him back. After the show he spots her at the bar and buys her a drink. Her name is Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), and she’s just learned her man was cheating. She and Rudy bond, and she admits she likes to sing and always wanted to perform but has stage fright. They create a character of “Queen Bee”, who begins performing alongside Dolemite very successfully.
Rudy album enters the Billboard charts, and so he records another album. On Christmas, he takes his friends to see the movie “Front Page”, which he’s read good reviews of. The guys are stunned that they don’t find the movie funny or exciting in any way, and the white audience is laughing hysterically. Rudy decides he should make a movie that black audiences would actually like. He pitches to Walter Crane (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris) at the black movie studio, but Walter finds Dolemite too niche for his studio. Rudy decides to produce the movie himself, taking money from the record company and sales. He asks Toney to handle the money, Jimmy to do take care of the costumes and props, and Ben to do the music. Rudy goes to see a play he enjoys, and finds the writer Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key), who is a serious dramatist and wants his work to be culturally important and doesn’t quite get the Dolemite thing. Jerry is reticent to write the Dolemite movie, but Rudy convinces him this will be an opportunity to be in movie theaters.
While at a strip club looking for actresses, Rudy sees D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), a known actor. He has no interest in being in such a slapdash project until Rudy offers him the director position. The Bihari brothers warn Rudy if they front him the money and the movie fails, they’ll make all the money off his album royalties, but Rudy believes in the project. Rudy hires a group of USC film students led by Nick (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to be the crew, and they know more about film-making than Rudy’s crew. The decrepit building Rudy gets to shoot in has no working electricity and the floors are falling apart, so the crew steals the electric from next door. When it’s time to film the kung fu scenes, Rudy is not as good at making it look good as he claimed he would be, but D’Urville does his best.
When the sex scene approaches, Rudy is nervous since he’s out of shape, but Lady Reed tells him that instead of making the scene sexy he can make it funny, so the crew makes the scene happen where the room literally collapses as they have sex, cracking everyone up. Meanwhile, the film has run out of money very close to the end of shooting, so Rudy has to beg the Bihari brothers for even more money. D’Urville tells Rudy to use the fight he has for the movie in his acting. Finally, the film finishes shooting, and D’Urville leaves the set in a rush, but the crew encourages Rudy to celebrate the moment more, which they do.
When the film is finished, Rudy can’t find any distributor for it. Rudy is devastated, back at the grind trying to make a buck since the Bihari brothers get all his royalties. At a radio appearance in Indianapolis, DJ Bobby Vale (Chris Rock) gives Rudy his cousin’s information – he owns a theater. He has to pay to put the movie in theaters, but will make all the ticket sales, so he hustles promoting the movie all over town. The movie plays like gangbusters; the audience laughs hysterically. Lawrence Woolner (Bob Oedenkirk) from Dimension Pictures sees the insane returns on the Dolemite and offers to buy the film. He brings the whole crew to the business meeting, where they strike the deal to release Dolemite nationwide.
Rudy pays the Bihari brothers back their investment. On the way to the premiere, the group reads the terrible reviews, but Rudy stands by the movie. When they arrive, the line for the premiere is around the block, the theater saying they’re going to have to add a 2:00 AM showing just so everyone can get in. A young boy in the front of the line tells Rudy he is his biggest fan, and when he doesn’t get in, Rudy goes out to entertain him and the crowd. Lady Reed comes to get him so he doesn’t miss the movie, and Rudy says he’s seen it, and stays outside to entertain the crowd of people waiting to get in to the next showing.
Post-script explains the Dolemite made over 10 million dollars, and Rudy and his company made seven more movies.