Sometimes, a performance by an actor or actress can be so large that it overpowers the story and all the other characters, which is exactly what happens with “Talk to Me.” Don Cheadle, whose acting is in the same league as Denzel Washington, turns in an electrifying performance as Ralph “Petey” Greene, the radio host whose appearance on the broadcast scene in the 1960’s helped redefine the nature of talk radio.
Greene, an ex-convict who received his training by broadcasting a “show” twice-a-day over the prison loudspeakers, bullies and bluffs Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a newly-minted program director, into giving him a job at a Washington, DC station. Hughes, who wears suits and is about as different from Greene as he can be, decides that the morning show needs a fresher voice than “Sunny Jim” Kelsey (Vondie Curtis-Hall), so, over the protests of station owner E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen), Hughes puts Greene on the air.
A man who definitely says whatever is on his mind, Greene comes out of the gate smoking by taking deadly accurate potshots at legendary Motown producer Berry Gordy. Sonderling wants Greene fired for his remarks, especially since he can’t afford to irritate Gordy, but he soon changes his mind when listeners respond and identify with what Greene has to say. Callers flood the station with praise for Greene and his remarks.
Hughes thinks he has found a great commodity in Greene and eventually becomes his agent, booking him on talk shows as well as landing him his own television interview program. Greene even performs stand-up routines at local clubs, which are merely an extension of the things that he already says on the air. Unfortunately, Hughes doesn’t really understand what Petey Greene is all about and, when he tries to package and sell his client, Greene rebels. Hughes fails to listen to what Greene is saying, especially when he expresses a secret desire to go back to a simpler existence.
Don Cheadle is rock solid as Petey Greene in “Talk to Me” and therein lays the problem. Like the real Petey Greene himself, Cheadle’s characterization of the radio host is so powerful that not even a feature-length movie can contain the forces that Cheadle unleashes on screen.
Cheadle gets good backup from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Greene’s mentor and friend Dewey Hughes. Cedric the Entertainer also provides some needed comic relief as the “Nighthawk,” a smooth-talking DJ who decorates the studio like a passion pit, but neither Ejiofor or Cedric can contain Cheadle when he gets rolling.
Cheadle, therefore, gets an “A+” for his portrayal of Greene, but “Talk to Me” is only a “B-“production.
“Talk to Me” is rated R for pervasive language and some sexual content.