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Talk to Me

Talk to Me is so busy talking, maybe someone should have spent some time listening.


Set in the '60s and based on a true story, we meet Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), a popular radio DJ--in prison. When he's pardoned early, Petey hits up one of his inmate friend's brother, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radio station manager, for work. In fact, Petey marches right down to Hughes' D.C. radio station and keeps harassing Hughes until he gets his shot. Petey chokes the first time on air and makes libelous remarks that don't sit well with the station boss (Martin Sheen). But controversy sells, so Petey and Dewey scheme to give Petey a show. When his show on Martin Luther King Jr's assassination calms down a rioting public, even the corporate brass sees his value. Greene rises to local fame but still gets himself into trouble with booze and promiscuity. Will his talent overcome his vices? Not likely. Unfortunately, the film's self-importance simply masks a story about a self-destructive loser who lucks into some notoriety.


For all its superiority, Talk to Me still manages to wring out some Oscar-worthy performances. There is no shortage of juicy characters for acclaimed thespians to exercise their muscles. As is his modus operandi, Don Cheadle transforms into Petey Greene as much as he did as Hotel Rwanda's Paul Rusesabagina. You'd never imagine he had a better vocabulary to use, he is that much of a foul mouthed low life. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) is also phenomenal. His good guy Dewey is the less showy part, but he projects so much power. Dewey deserves the success Petey wastes. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow) plays Petey's girlfriend, a composite of all the women the real-life Greene must have screwed over. She's devastatingly sexy, flaunting her wares to attract more attention to Petey, yet still heartbreaking when Greene does the inevitable. Martin Sheen never plays the ''white boss.'' He's just a human being with practical worries, bu he still puts his neck on the line to support social change. Cedric the Entertainer plays a more established DJ at the station. It's a very small role with only a few scenes, but he puts that deep voice to good use on the airwaves.


It is clear co-writer/director Kasi Lemmons thinks the Petey Greene story is an important one to tell, but she fails to fully convey his true impact, if there was any. He wasn't the only black man on the radio in the '60s to follow Martin Luther King's call for peace. Greene's lengthy radio rants in Talk to Me are powerful and poignant, but it's all overshadowed by his deplorable behavior off the air. Lemmons gets the period details down, however. Everyone looks distinctly groovy, and landmark events put together on a small budget still give a sense of the era. But by mostly containing the film's world to a radio station, Talk to Me seems more like a melodrama between a producer and a star than a biopic about a man who propagated social change.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.