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Movie Review: Talk to Me

Talk to Me
Directed by Kasi Lemmons
Written by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa

Whether a person’s life is worth telling or not, the structure in a movie is almost always the same: Humble beginnings, rise to the top, and a downfall.  The biopic is the most predictable genre in the business, and that goes double if you happen to know anything about that person’s life.

And for awhile, Talk to Me works, since most of us are going to be unfamiliar with Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), who rose as a top-flight DJ in Washington D.C. during the sixties.  Of course, if you’ve seen any controversial figure’s biopic (Howard Stern’s Private Parts comes to mind), the sight of white guys getting uptight at taboo discussion doesn’t have nearly the payoff it may once have had.

At the beginning of the story, Greene is a jailbird Dj-ing in the joint, and he meets seemingly Uncle Tom-ish radio executive Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) when Hughes visits his brother Milo (Mike Epps), himself serving a long sentence.  Hughes’ radio station is getting hammered in the ratings, and his boss E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) wants fresh blood just as Greene is getting an early exit from jail.  After the typical wrangling over the idea of an ex-con being in the booth, Greene gets his chance.

And of course, Greene says the things people don’t have the guts to say by and large, and he’s an engaging personality.  Hughes sees potential for Greene to be much more, but pushes him towards arenas (stand-up, TV, etc.) that Greene never bargained for.  We see Greene having a tough time keeping a balance with his success, leading to drinking and screwing around on his girlfriend Vernell Watson (Taraji P. Henson, who’s great).

The film is on target as it shows Greene at his best, being the engagin radio personality and having a calming influence on D.C. after Martin Luther King is assassinated.  But once it gets into the “downfall” portion, the movie gets into the bind that most biopics fall into, unable to capture any of the momentum it builds up because it necessarily has to be destroyed.  The third act of this film is a big mess.

But Cheadle once again shows his greatness, as does Ejiofor, and for awhile this movie gives you what you want.  Just don’t expect it to blow your hair back with revelations or ingenuity.

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