Having ascended to genre supremacy, the biopic has long since reached its imaginative low—so much so that the banality of Talk to Me is only half disappointing; at least it babbles clichés with conviction. Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) from a screenplay by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa, this earnest, ineffectual history lesson stars Don Cheadle as Ralph Waldo "Petey" Green, an ex-con turned Washington, D.C., radio phenomenon who electrified Chocolate City in the mid-to-late 1960s with his streetwise populism. Chiwetel Ejiofor co-stars as Dewey Hughes, a sympathetic producer at the complacent soul station WOL-AM; Martin Sheen appears as The Man. Textured by ego trips, boozing, red velvet tuxedos, and a soundtrack jammed with rousing, if predictable, hits of the era, Talk to Me lacks every kind of specificity (historical, psychological, sociocultural) but redeems itself through the dedication of its Cheadlicious lead. As in the overrated Hotel Rwanda, Cheadle is a live wire in dead air, shimmering with vitality—and silk paisley blouses—against his oppressively formulaic context.
Cheadle has no time for girlfriend Taraji P. Henson.
Opens at Lincoln Square and other theaters, Fri., July 27. Rated R. 118 minutes.