[Screen It]


(2018) (Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson) (R)

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Dramedy/Satire: A young man moves up the corporate ladder of a telemarketing firm but finds his rapid advance and resultant riches in conflict with his values and those of his girlfriend and coworkers.
In something of an alternate universe version of Oakland, Cassius Green (LAKEITH STANFIELD) is a young man just trying to make ends meet. He lives in his uncle Sergio's (TERRY CREWS) garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (TESSA THOMPSON), an artist who makes a living spinning store signs on street corners. Cassius has just managed to land a telemarketing job with his friend Salvador (JERMAINE FOWLER) when he learns a significant trick of the trade from Langston (DANNY GLOVER), a seasoned telemarketer.

And that's to speak in his "white voice" when making cold calls. While coworker Squeeze (STEVEN YEUN) is trying to unionize their office, Cassius suddenly excels at making sales using that vocal tactic. So much so that he's promoted upstairs to the power caller suite where his boss, Mr. ____ (OMARI HARDWICK) -- his name is bleeped out whenever it's said in the film -- hooks him up with Steve Lift (ARMIE HAMMER). He's the CEO of Worry Free, a company that provides its workers with housing and three meals a day, but is accused by the activist group Left Eye of being little more than a program of forced slavery.

When Cassius discovers what they're really up to -- in terms of clients and creating a new breed of compliant workers -- he finds himself torn between his new luxurious lifestyle and where his girlfriend, friends and former coworkers still are.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Despite the best efforts of the fine folks at the FTC, the "Do Not Call" program and related registry have done nothing to stem telemarketers, at least in regard to those who call my house with what are presumably illegitimate, most likely predatory and quite likely criminal offers.

What with sometimes having up to ten such calls every day, I've resorted to more than simply ignoring them and instead have gotten creative, including having the "Jaws" or "Psycho" theme music queued up and ready to play to such callers. At the same time, they've equally gotten creative in hopes of getting me to pick up, including even using my home number as their Caller ID signature.

All of which makes me think of the late '70s thriller movie "When a Stranger Calls" where the cops trace the harassing call and tell the victim that it's coming from inside her own house. Yes, it's all sort of turned surreal, but nowhere near the new definition of that word that comes to mind in relation to a movie that prominently features such marketing, "Sorry to Bother You."

The film is the imaginative brainchild of Boots Riley, a.k.a. Raymond Lawrence Riley, the 47-year-old lead vocalist of the political hip-hop band The Coup who makes his writing and directorial debut with this offering that clocks in at around 105 minutes.

If anything, you have to admit this is about as unpredictable a film as you'll see all year and one that certainly starts off promisingly enough. But as the story progresses and unfolds and the weirder and more surreal everything gets, the more it begins to fray and likely lose some audience members as the filmmaker tries to stuff too many thematic elements into this multi-genre pic.

After all, how many movies do you see that feature or touch upon the world of telemarketing, racial perception and racism, unionizing, capitalism run amok, selling out others to get ahead, an orgy, corporate slave labor, reality TV shows, genetic splicing, and much, much more?

It centers around Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a man desperate enough for a job -- he lives in his uncle's garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) -- that he takes the telemarketing gig. Riley has some fun with that as we see him literally dropped down into people's homes and interrupting whatever they might be doing with his unexpected and unwanted calls.

A call veteran (Danny Glover) gives him the trade secret that he'll make more sales and thus money if he uses his "white voice" over the phone. Riley then doubles up on the phone fun by having us hear such "white voices" with Cassius' being supplied by David Cross and his boss (who strangely has his name bleeped out on the audio track whenever it's said) gets his from Patton Oswalt.

All of that and the general gist of cubicle work calling people could remind some of the terrific "Office Space," what with office politics, weird bosses and such. At that point, everything seems to be clicking for an updated version of sorts of Mike Judge's fun and funny workplace satire from a few decades back.

But then the filmmaker starts adding one social or satire based element after another and ultimately seems to lose his way as they pile up higher and higher. Our focus is held for a while as we try to figure out how all of those bits are going to tie together and where things ultimately are headed -- not to mention wondering what weird thing is going to come next (and trust me, it gets really weird).

We eventually come to the realization, though, that the film is simply trying to be too much. Sort of as if this is the lone chance to get points across, so all of them might as well be dumped onto the pile before time runs out. Alas, that diffuses most of them and ultimately robs the film of being a fully developed satire. Which is too bad because it starts out so well.

In the end, I didn't mind being bothered by having "Sorry to Bother You" show up in front of me, but it needed several more passes through the script and film editing booths to be as tight and effective as it could and should have been. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 27, 2018 / Posted July 13, 2018

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