"Talk to Me, talk to me," radio dj Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) says to his listeners, the riled-up black population of socially turbulent 1960s Washington, DC -- and boy, they do. But mainly they listen. Because in P-town (and that's Petey town, not Provincetown), the man talks and everybody listens. No joke. Looking spiffy in groovy clothes and period afro, Cheadle practically bounces off the screen with a high energy, hilarious, and heartrending performance where every unexpected word keeps his audience--and that includes us--spellbound.
Kasi Lemmons' third feature film after Eve's Bayou and The Caveman's Valentine is an enormous success. With a screenplay by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa, Talk To Me takes the stale biopic formula and keeps it steadily moving, from the raucous beginning to the bittersweet end. Ralph Waldo Petey Greene Jr. first meets radio producer Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in prison. The straightlaced executive is visiting his incarcerated brother Milo (Mike Epps), whereas Greene is a fellow inmate--or as Hughes calls him, a miscreant--serving time and doing the prison radio show. When Greene uses his verbal skills to talk a deranged inmate down off the roof, he secures himself an early release. He shows up at WOL, a loyal woman on his arm (the irrepressible Taraji P. Henson), and demands a job.
The intense interaction between the two men makes up the heart of the film: a symbiotic relationship that starts with acrimony and distrust and develops into mutual admiration and nothing less than love. Petey Greene taunts his suited opponent, calls him Sidney Poitier and Mr. Tibbs, but they need each other. To get Greene on the air, they lock an established radio DJ (Vondie Curtis Hall) and the big boss (Martin Sheen) in their offices.
As the man who plays it straight, Ejiofor has the far less sexy role, but his subtle performance rivals Cheadle's non-stop show. The entire cast has ample charm; Cedric the Entertainer does a nice turn as DJ Nighthawk, and Henson shines in the role of longtime girlfriend. Martin Sheen manages to make the corporate hocho sympathetic. Lemmons' direction captures the frenetic spirit of the time and the disconnect between the enormously popular Johnny Carson show and the riots raging on the streets after the murder of Martin Luther King. Employing all the right details, from flamboyant clothes to the wonderful music, Talk to Me succesfully evokes a revolutionary time in American history.