Talk to Me
2007, R, 118 min. Directed by Kasi Lemmons. Starring Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mike Epps, Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer, Martin Sheen, Vondie Curtis-Hall.
REVIEWED By Toddy Burton, Fri., Aug. 3, 2007
Don Cheadle rarely disappoints. Endearing and chameleonlike, he embraces his performances (Ocean’s Eleven-Thirteen, Hotel Rwanda) with a mixture of comedy and pathos that always leaves us wanting more. So, it’s not surprising to see him take on yet another full transformation as the down-and-dirty radio deejay Petey Greene, who emerged from prison to develop a huge following in Washington, D.C., during the late Sixties and Seventies. With his wild appearance and scratchy cadence, Cheadle embraces the role – body, mind, and voice. The story begins with Petey incarcerated, entrancing his fellow inmates on the prison radio. After getting released in 1966, Petey is determined to get a job as a professional deejay. The wonderful Ejiofor (Children of Men) plays Dewey Hughes, the only black man with a position of power at WOL-AM, a station employing almost exclusively black deejays and targeting a black audience. Conservative and soft-spoken, Dewey is the ying to Petey’s yang. After outrageous protestations, Petey eventually convinces the resistant Dewey to put him on the radio. They form a quick bond and conspire against the ultra-conservative station manager (Sheen) to sneak Petey on the air. As Petey stirs it up and voices what most people are afraid to think, the reactions are electric. Given a morning talk show, Petey opens with “Wake up, goddammit!” and signs off with his signature, “This is Petey Greene's Washington.” The pressures of success lead to indulgences with alcohol and women, much to the frustration of his girlfriend (the amazing Henson of Hustle & Flow). Meanwhile, Dewey takes on the role of Petey’s manager and attempts to guide his career (against Petey’s wishes) toward television and stand-up comedy. Despite its earnest attempts at power drama, the joy of Talk to Me lies in the comedy and the wild performances, particularly those of Cheadle and Henson. The plotline, consisting of the rise to fame, inevitable descent, and even more inevitable redemption, is somewhat tired. But director Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) has a clear passion for the story that reveals itself in evocative representations of the time and place. During a particularly powerful sequence, Petey helps to calm the riotous people of D.C. after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. And the music that erupts from the deejay booth is a character all its own. From James Brown to Sam Cooke, the songs set a mood that lingers for some time after.