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Talk to Me Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2008
ImageSet in Washington D.C., the film opens in May 1966 with WOL radio executive Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visiting his brother Milo (Mike Epps) in prison, where he’s serving 20 to life. Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) acts as a disc jockey as he broadcasts over the prison P.A. system. Milo has told his brother about Petey, but Dewey finds him crude and unfunny. As Dewey leaves the facility, he crosses paths with Petey who asks about a job at the radio station. Dewey has no interest in Petey due in part to his being a convict with at least five to ten left on his sentence. Rather than tell Petey “No” when he says he’s going to look him up when he gets out, Dewey replies, “You do that,” believing he will never hear from Petey again.

During a meeting at WOL, station owner E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) wants to know why they are losing ratings. Dewey thinks it’s because they have lost touch with the people. As Dewey is the only African American in management, Sonderling decides to give him a chance to turn things around.

At the prison, an inmate is atop a tower raising a ruckus. He refuses to come down and only wants to speak with Petey. The warden calls for Petey to help in exchange for an early release. What the warden didn’t know was that Petey set the whole thing up with the inmate. Petey shows up at the radio station and demands to be put on the air. When he is refused, he stages protests outside the radio station that grow in numbers each day. Dewey sees Petey has a gift for gab and a way with the people and puts him on the air. Petey is raw and outlandish, a shock jock before the term was coined. Sonderling is not happy until he sees the people are connecting with Petey.

Petey’s popularity grows with D.C. listeners as people enjoy the laughter that he brings them, but his most important broadcast takes place the night Martin Luther King is assassinated. The city is set ablaze by many angry residents who are rioting in the streets. Petey goes on the air to try and quell the hostilities, and the people slowly respond.

Dewey sees Petey’s talent and wants to expand his audience because Petey is saying what people need to hear and what people are afraid to say, so he becomes Petey’s manager. The rest of the film details their relationship.

The advertising and packaging of “Talk To Me” make the film seem like it is a biography about Petey, but it’s really about Dewey. We see the contrast between the two men, the wild street hustler and the business executive, who each need each other to progress in the world, but Petey is just the catalyst for Dewey, whose character transforms through the course of the story. The film moves along at a good pace, but once Petey and Dewey’s relationship dissolves, the story loses direction and falls apart. The final 20 minutes are anti-climatic and feel like one long epilogue.

Cheadle delivers a great performance, a captivating presence whenever he is on screen. Ejiofor is very good as well as he makes a less flamboyant character an equal. The whole cast is impressive, although Taraji P. Henson as Petey’s girl Vernell was distracting. She’s a good actress and very sexy, but her fake breasts are anachronistic. I don’t understand why the wardrobe department put her in low-cut tops that show off a lot of cleavage.

The film looks like it was shot with very limited depths of field, causing backgrounds to be out of focus and lines not to be as sharp. Some HD fans will see that as a knock against the DVD, but the DVD can only deliver what the film gives it unless major work is undertaken. The colors do look good and the images are clean.

The dialogue sounds clear, but there’s not much to test your audio system. The soundtrack has a good selection of music from the time, and the funky numbers provide some bass for the subwoofer. The surround is put to good use during the riots as Petey and Dewey are on the streets.

The bonus feature are meager most likely due to the film’s poor box-office take. “Who is Petey Green?” is supposed to be an examination of the man by the cast and crew, but all it really does is synopsize what took place in the movie. “Recreating P-Town” is a featurette that covers the music, fashion and production design of the film. There are also eight minutes of deleted scenes. I don’t know what archival footage is available, but the real Petey deserved his own feature.

It’s hard not to see a wasted opportunity in “Talk To Me.” Up front, the film makes clear that it is “inspired by a true story,” but there was such great potential that was wasted. The story is set during a compelling time in American history about a compelling figure who was more than the character on display. The film comes across as if it was made without the involvement of anyone who knew Petey off the microphone, and fans and family have pointed out the film has a lot of inaccuracies; for example Petey didn’t even show up for “The Tonight Show” appearance. Petey and viewers deserved a better story about his life.

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