Thursday, February 9, 2017

Side By Side: DOLEMITE (1975) vs. THE DOLEMITE EXPLOSION (2002)

Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we dissect the differences and similarities between two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. This week, Robert tips his hat to Black History Month by comparing one of the most famous examples of Blaxploitation movies, Rudy Ray Moore's DOLEMITE (1975), with it's nostaliga sequel, 2002's THE DOLEMITE EXPLOSION.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. If you've read any of my previous reviews up to this point, you know by now that I love "bad" movies (though I do have my limits). I love them because they often come from a more genuine, if not honest place than much of the stuff that wins awards. I'd rather watch a twenty year old summer blockbuster than a best picture winner, because with the blockbuster you can often tell how much fun the people involved had making it. That said, I realize this isn't always the case, and the current trend of deliberately making bad movies to be enjoyed "ironically" (whatever that even means) is not something I fully support, much as I love the projects from the Asylum.

Dolemite may be one of these latter movies, bad by design in order to parody the blaxploitation genre. I found a rumor during my research for this review that suggests this is the case, but unfortunately I can't confirm it. That would explain a lot, though, if it is true. The acting debut of comedian Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite is a derivative mash-up of all the stereotypical elements of blaxploitation cinema. Hero pimp Dolemite (Moore) is out to save his neighborhood from rival hustler Willie Green. Of course drugs are a big part of the problem -- drugs were a common menace to the community in these movies -- and there's plenty of sex scenes and violence along the way. The sex scenes are particularly hilarious, including one that starts with the warm-up and then jump-cuts straight to the afterglow, like some hasty example of TV-version censorship.

The film keeps trying to develop a plot, but never quite gets there. Dolemite's clearly the good guy. Willie Green is the bad guy. For some reason, the cops are really hot to see that Dolemite goes back to jail for good, in a chain of corruption and conspiracy that goes all the way up to the mayor(!), but why any of this is happening at all is never really explained. We get a bit of exposition explaining that Dolemite did two years in prison after Willie set him up, but again, why? Why does Willie Green want Dolemite gone so bad that he's bought up the entire local government? This is never explained.

Instead all we get are fight scenes for the sake of revelling in Dolemite's badassery, like the one above. There are portions of the film that are apparently meant to be linking material to kill time until the next fight, with the characters speaking incoherent nonsense to each other in the interim. The acting is abysmal on all fronts (even by low-budget Seventies standards), and by the end the film has lost all sight of its own structure, actually ending in mid-conversation between two characters.

And yet this Olympian standard for crap cinema is somehow surpassed and raised by The Dolemite Explosion. Dolemite, again played by Rudy Ray Moore, now in his mid-70s, has returned from Africa at the request of his sister to once again clean up the streets. He brings with him two sons, some African witchcraft which basically turns him into Emperor Palpatine, and a catchphrase so nonsensical that Moore never says it quite the same way twice. I'm not even going to try to write it out here. All I'll say is that it's a fake-mystical kung-fu yell of the kind that might be invented by a small child who really likes old karate movies.

"Cleaning up the streets" quickly turns into "beating up that one guy", as the film conveniently presents our hero with one solitary character who is somehow responsible for all the crime and wickedness in this unnamed city, in the lowest 1970s crimefighting movie tradition. That locus of all that is evil is none other than Almo Green, revenge-bent brother of Willie Green, who's not gonna let a little thing like the passing of a quarter-century stop him from getting some long overdue payback. If you thought the rivalry between the elderly Sylvester Stallone and the geriatric Robert DeNiro was pitiful in 2013's Grudge Match, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

This is nothing more than a pathetic example of an old man trying to reclaim the glory of his youth. Watching the 75-year-old Moore swagger and bluster his way through his scenes is like watching that guy who peaked in high school: his antics range from the comical to the embarassing as the film moves Moore from one delusion-enabling scenario to another. The filmmaking has also not improved. Shots are out of focus, boom mikes make cameo appearances, and the editing is film-school drop-out bad in places. Watch for an exterior shot at about the one hour mark where a cut causes a bus to disappear while it's crossing the frame. And don't even get me started about that duct-tape-wrapped monstrosity of a "Key to the City" prop.

Like its predecessor, The Dolemite Explosion is longer than it needs to be, even though the movie clocks in at a paltry 75-minutes. Almo Green is defeated about 45 minutes in, so the film hustles some more bad guys in to pad time in one cartoonish fight scene after another. During that time, Moore's dialogue degenerates to the point where it seems to consist almost exclusively of the word "motherf***er". On that point, I don't think I've ever heard that word spoken so many times in a single movie; it certainly goes to levels where Eddie Murphy feared to tread.

In previous Side By Side articles, I've had a fairly easy time deciding which of the two movies I liked more, but these are both horrid. All I can think to do is let history break the tie. Dolemite and The Dolemite Explosion are both lazy, talentless, macho-stupid wastes of film stock, but at least Dolemite has the saving grace of being a product of its time. It's a blaxploitation movie made in the age of blaxplotation movies. While it's true that blaxploitation as a film genre never truly went away, The Dolemite Explosion is the Duke Nukem Forever of action movies: a relic of a bygone time, trapped in a world it no longer recognizes. It may be true that there are no "good" blaxploitation movies, but these prove that there are indefensibly bad ones.

Robert's Scores:

Dolemite: 1/10
The Dolemite Explosion: 0/10

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