Talk is cheap

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - MICHAEL DWYER

AF­FIRM­ING the view that truth is stranger than fiction, Talk to Me charts the un­likely rise to fame of Wash­ing­ton, DC DJ Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene in the late 1960s. If the sce­nario is to be be­lieved, Greene was serv­ing a 10-year sen­tence for armed rob­bery when he met WOL-AM pro­gramme di­rec­tor Dewey Hughes, who is visit­ing his brother in the same prison.

We are asked to be­lieve that Greene per­suades a fel­low in­mate to make a rooftop protest and then talks him down, and that the war­den frees Greene as a re­sult. When Hughes turns him down for a job, Greene some­how ral­lies a band of vo­cal sup­port­ers out­side the ra­dio sta­tion, even though most, if not all, of them have no idea who he is. Be­cause the sta­tion’s rat­ings are de­clin­ing and Hughes feels it is out of touch with the peo­ple, he agrees to let Greene on the air.

As tends to hap­pen in show­biz biopics, Greene be­comes an overnight suc­cess, but we an­tic­i­pate that there will be prob­lems on the way. The re­cur­ring con­flict in the movie, how­ever, is be­tween the Greene, the jive-talk­ing shock jock, and the con­ser­va­tive, am­bi­tious Hughes, whose pro­fes­sional role model is TV pre­sen­ter Johnny Car­son. Greene chides Hughes as “a white man with a tan” and “a Sid­ney Poitier-ass nig­ger”.

Work­ing from a script on which Hughes’s son was co-writer, Kasi Lem­mons’s film is en­er­getic but un­even in its episodic struc­ture. What in­ter­est it has is due to the strong chem­istry be­tween the two leads. As Hughes, the con­sis­tently im­pres­sive Chi­we­tel Ejio­for is per­fectly un­der­stated. And, re­sem­bling the young Richard Pryor with a mous­tache and Afro, the ver­sa­tile Don Chea­dle brings the flam­boy­ant, chain-smok­ing and hard-drink­ing Petey Greene vividly to life, jus­ti­fy­ing why the char­ac­ter should be the sub­ject of a movie.

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