Talking Movies

December 22, 2019

From the Archives: Talk to Me

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This would be one of the films of the year, if it ended just 20 minutes sooner than it does. Petey Green was a DJ in Washington DC in the late 1960s and Don Cheadle is terrific as this ex-con keeping it real on the airwaves. Martin Sheen plays EG Sonderling, the head of the WOL radio station that broadcasts Green’s show. In one episode of Sheen’s political show The West Wing a character made reference to DC being one of the blackest cities in America, but that you would never guess it from the exclusively white faces of the corridors of power in Washington. Sheen is tremendous here in a supporting role as his character changes from utter hostility to Petey Green to a great respect for Green’s truth-telling about the city’s racial divide.

Cedric the Entertainer, who disgraced himself in last week’s Code Name: The Cleaner, has a wonderfully droll small role as a Barry White-voiced DJ in this film which offers an incisive interrogation of black American culture. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is Cheadle’s match as black radio executive Dewey Hughes. The dramatic crackle between these two men, especially in an electrifying pool game where they verbally dissect each other, is of the highest calibre. It is two great actors sparking off each other using a script that is literate, detailed and engaged. In a desperate attempt to avoid using the racial epithet that usually follows the prefixes field- and house- in American slang let us describe Hughes and Green as they do each other. Green regards Hughes as a collaborator with the white man, talking frightfully proper English, dressing in a suit and sucking up to merit a patronising pat on the head. Hughes regards Green as a willing victim, who will spend his life in and out of jail, while boasting about how ‘real’ he is, and asking for a handout.

How these men find common ground is brilliantly handled and the period setting is tremendously evoked while everyone deserves especial acclaim for the sequence that follows the death of Martin Luther King. Nowhere has that assassination been portrayed to such devastatingly emotional effect, the impact here is so great that you may well end up crying at an event that happened 39 years ago. Primarily though this is a very funny film, especially Hughes’ initial attempts to get Petey Green on the air. The last 20 minutes stray from the radio station, as Hughes masterminds Green’s transition to TV star and stand-up comedian, and act as an epilogue to the main drama. As epilogues go it’s involving but it destroys the film’s momentum so that the end becomes something of an anti-climax. For all that though Talk to Me is both entertaining and has an important message, it deserves a wide audience.

4/5

December 15, 2019

From the Archives: Code Name: The Cleaner

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

A strong contender for turkey of the year, this 82 minute long ‘comedy’ manages the staggering feat of raising no laughs, not even a giggle or a titter during its entire (and mercifully brief) running time. The one joke about Lionel Richie that seemed mildly amusing in the trailer becomes totally flat when delivered in context by our amnesiac hero Jake, played by the extremely dubiously monikered Cedric the Entertainer. This is an incredibly joyless exercise which the mind struggles to explain except as a victim of the writer’s strike which prevented some comedy writers from adding the gags to a rejected thriller script before filming began, except that would make sense for a film released this time next year but not for one released now. This film is so predictably structured it could be taught as a model of uninvolved storytelling, the secret motive is revealed here, a character betrays another here…. You will become so bored that you begin to wonder what an ambitious writer could have done with such a set-up if they’d chosen to go for a full on paranoid thriller. But I digress, we must deal with what we have before us, not the lost opportunities.

What we have is not pretty. Cedric the Entertainer stole 2003’s Intolerable Cruelty from George Clooney. It is thus baffling just why he would appear in a picture that reduces black culture to the mix of casual misogyny, objectification of women and farcical macho posturing of ‘ghetto’ rappers that drives Bill Cosby among others so wild. Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sheridan gets precious little screen time as she is there only to do a ‘sexy’ dance in lingerie to get information from her ‘husband’ Jake. How does it compare to the similar scene between Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnie in True Lies? Not even close. Lucy Liu similarly is introduced in sexy slow motion to allow Jake to drool over her ‘fine ass’. All this is quite startling for supposedly egalitarian 2007 and is only partly redeemed by Liu’s belated transformation into an ass-kicking FBI agent which allows for an absurd finale in which everyone, apart from mere janitor Jake, develops Charlie Angel’s style martial arts skills.

Boredom can be somewhat staved off by playing spot the obscure TV actors. But that’s really only a game suitable for walking IMDbs such as this reviewer who noticed that Nicolette Sheridan’s receptionist is the receptionist from Canadian vampire show Blood Ties. Canadian character actor Callum Keith Rennie features prominently as a bent FBI agent and comes out with some dignity intact. Not much mind, but a lot more than his one-time Due South co-star Beau Starr as one of Jake’s fellow janitors. Brett Ratner, the auteur behind the Rush Hour trilogy, produced this dreck. Brett, just…stop. Okay? Please??

0/5

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