This movie must have gotten lost in the shuffle of big blockbuster releases and it deserves so much better. In the 1960s and `70s, Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) talking, as a "tell it like it is" radio DJ in Washington, D.C. You may have never heard of him but he was so popular in the D.C. area, that when he died more than 10,000 people came to his memorial service. Petey was funny, inspiring and a fierce community activist. He was, at times, also over the top with his self-destructive behavior. He was an ex con man, and Cheadle's portrayal is right on target. The "git down" Petey you hear and see on-screen, by all accounts is Petey Greene as he was, unlike the shock jock posers of today.
When Petey cons his way into an early parole, he looks up Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejofor), the brother of a fellow inmate, and someone who had cracked to Petey to come and see him about a job when he got out. Dewey is program director at WOL-AM, a popular urban radio station geared to black music that sees its audience slipping away to edgier DJs. Dewey is a button-down type, in charge of hiring, and on his way to the top at the station owned by E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen). How Petey fast talks his way onto the air for the first time, with Dewey's help, is funny but it also offers a critical look at how people stereotype one another. Petey was able to keep it real in prison, and now on the outside, in part because of his sexy girlfriend Vernell (Taraji P. Henson of Hustle of Flow). Now he's able to connect with the radio audience, not just because he plays good music but he's always up front with his on air persona. Petey pulls no punches with his biting social commentary and his invitation to listeners to call him with their thoughts. "Talk to me," he tells them.
The film's mix of hilarious circumstances still manages to keep one grounded, even with the events surrounding the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact of the Viet Nam war. Substance abuse and dreams of being on top of the world are the things that limit what Petey and Dewey can do together. If this story were not true, this would be a spoiler. You know things will crash, just not when, and to what extent the damage will be. Petey's popularity eventually surpasses that of his fellow star disc jockeys, Nighthawk (Cedric The Entertainer) and Sunny Jim (Vondie Curtis Hall).
We've seen excellent biopics in the past about American black men such as Ali and Ray. There are, however, a few notable differences between this film and those pictures. They were internationally known as entertainers by both the public and themselves. Both Petey and Dewey were tough guys but we get a glimpse of that inner self that men generally regard as weakness. That is, love and respect for another man without any homosexual overtones. Talk to Me digs deep in this area.
Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou and The Caveman's Valentine) captures the flavor of Melvin Van Peebles and add in the great music from the late `60s, with a sultry score by Terrence Blanchard, some biting, sarcastic humor about Motown, and you have a movie that is not to be missed. Talk to Me tells quite a story about this slice of American culture.