DOLEMITE and his "all-girl army of Kung-Fu killers" hit Blu-ray with a vengeance courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome's sterling restoration.
Framed by the cops for possession of narcotics (and stolen furs), pimp Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore, THE MONKEY HU$TLE) gets a chance at freedom when his partner Queen Bee (Lady Reed, PETEY WHEATSTRAW) and the prison's warden ("That rat-soup-eatin', insecure honky motherfucker!") inform him of his nephew's murder in a drive-by shooting, the increase in gun-running and violent crime in his old neighborhood – despite the efforts of the disingenuous Mayor Dale (Hy Pyke, BLADE RUNNER) to clean up the area – and their suspicion that members of the police force are in cahoots with competing pimp/crime boss Willie Green (director D'Urville Martin, the elevator man from ROSEMARY'S BABY). No sooner does Dolemite hit the streets than Willie Green's men are trying to kill him and dirty cops Mitchell (John Kerry, MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE) and White are looking for any reason to put him back behind bars. When Dolemite discovers that Queen Bee had to sell his club "Total Experience" because of a debt to Willie Green and the inability to pay it thanks to Mitchell and White shaking down his girls (who she had to train in martial arts to defend themselves on the street), he sets about "fuckin' up motherfuckers" and getting back what's his. Fellow officer Blakely (the film's writer Jerry Jones, THE LONG GOODBYE) is more interested in investigating the dirty cops and provides Dolemite with some extra help. The shady Reverend Gibbs (West Gale, SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG) seems to be playing both sides as he encourages Dolemite to look a bit higher than the cops and Willie Green for the Fourth Ward's illegal activities. When Dolemite seizes back his club, he throws a big bash with his fighting girls waiting in anticipation of Green's retaliation.
Although a rather late entry in the Blaxploitation genre that is perhaps better known by wider audiences through the sampling of its highly quotable dialogue ("Man, move over and let me pass 'fore they have be to pullin' these Hush Puppies out your motherfuckin' ass!") and various parodies – among them the film BLACK DYNAMITE and MAD TV's "Son of Dolemite" – there really is nothing quite like seeing DOLEMITE. Technically ragged – with the cinematography of first-timer Nicholas Joseph von Sternberg (TOURIST TRAP) marred by inexperience, dipping boom microphones, flags, light stands, and the limbs of technicians at the edge of the frame – and rife with awkward performances and terribly staged fight scenes, the film is not a parody of Blaxploitation despite the casting of a comedian in the lead; and yet, it invites laughter beyond its shortcomings. Dolemite is like a living version of the characters in "Shine and the Great Titanic" and "Signifying Monkey" his spoken-word performances of traditional African-American tall tales in which downtrodden protagonists outwit, outsmarts, or gets the upper hand over their oppressors by sheer luck. Jones' scripting and Martin's uncommitted direction is such that the various injustices perpetrated on characters and their retribution fail to stir the viewer in the manner of some of the better examples of the genre (the showdown at the club is not the set piece it should have been), so it is really a matter of laughing with and at the proceedings. Admittedly more of an entertainer than an actor, Moore's engaging presence commands the film while the parts without him lag (even when Jones' cop and Dolemite's girls take their turn at kicking ass).
This article was originally written for DVD Drive-in by Eric Cotenas and can be read