AFF Review: Death of a Telemarketer

Smooth-talking comedy is charming if suitably glib

There are certain professions that lend themselves to comedic comeuppance, the heartless lawyer, corrupt politician, or pretentious film critic being served their just desserts. So consider the telemarketer, because most people do not.

Those receiving the intrusive call are usually too busy hanging up without a second thought. But those who actually do stay on the line, they’re just a mark, another notch on the sales board.

That’s how we meet Kasey Miller (Lamorne Morris from Hulu’s Woke). He’s an all-star at the fictional Telewin, selling those phone/internet/cable bundles to hapless consumers who are unable to resist his selling technique, which includes, but is not limited to, fake accents, feigned sympathy, and outright falsehoods. He’s surrounded by the usual stock co-workers spewing endless crass jokes and a boss who expects “results!”

It’s a big day for Kasey: There’s a big, $3,000 end-of-month sales contestant that he just about has in the bag, which is good, because he took out a shady loan that week to buy an engagement ring so he can propose to his girlfriend Christine (Alisha Wainwright) later that night. When a co-worker beats him by one call, he’s determined to stay late and win that money by any means necessary, including harassing people from the dreaded “Do not call” list.

Alas, Kasey lies to the wrong person. Pretending to be an old friend, he tries to hustle one Asa Ellenbogen (Jackie Earle Haley). Asa loses it and, along with his son Jim (Haley Joel Osment), they hold Kasey hostage at gunpoint. You see, Asa’s wife was killed in an accident years ago while she was on the phone with a telemarketer, so it’s quite understandable that his contempt for this particular occupation runs quite deep. Asa demands that Kasey ring up people and sincerely apologize on behalf of telemarketers everywhere. Or something.

It’s a bit vague, there’s talk of deterrence theory, but it’s just an excuse for some kidnapper/hostage banter, in which there is never much tension, as Kasey’s smooth talking and the abductors’ ineptness leave no doubt to the outcome. Writer/director Khaled Ridgeway’s film has some chuckles, and Morris is clearly having fun with his unrepentant character, but that is part of the film’s problem. There is no redemption for Kasey, no realization that maybe his worldview might just be a tad manipulative. Without that catharsis, Death of a Telemarketer comes off exactly like its protagonist: insincere.

Death of a Telemarketer

Comedy Vanguard, Texas Premiere

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Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Festival 2020, AFF 2020, Death of a Telemarketer, Khaled Ridgeway, Lamorne Morris, Jackie Earle Haley, Haley Joel Osment

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