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Talk of the town

Movies | Talk to Me tells the funny, vulgar, and sad story of Petey Green

Issue: "The yoot vote," Aug. 4, 2007

Sometimes there's a man who just fits into his time and place. In the Washington, D.C., of the 1960s, that man was Petey Green, a real-life prisoner-turned-disc jockey who cajoled himself into a job at WOL in 1966 and became a local sensation.

Actor Don Cheadle portrays the flamboyant Petey Green in the big-screen version of Green's life, Talk to Me (rated R for pervasive foul language). The film picks up on Green's life as a prison disc jockey where he meets professional broadcaster Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who has come to visit his incarcerated brother. When Green finagles his way into an early release, he demands a job from the respectable Hughes.

The language is often terrible, but the interplay between Green and Hughes makes for great fun. Dressed in tight pants, unbuttoned shirts, and scarves, Green seems like he's just waiting for the debut of Billy Preston's funk hit, "Outta-Space." By contrast, Hughes brags that he learned how to talk, walk, and dress by watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Green charges Hughes with not being black enough. Hughes charges Green with not being man enough.

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Hughes gives Green a prominent job spinning discs and talking his way through the morning drive time, and Green's straight talk and prison background make him an instant success. Up to a point, Talk to Me plays out like a motion picture version of a Richard Pryor comedy routine. That point is the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., when Green's broadcasts help to calm rioters and refocus them on King's message.

Petey Green was born to be a disc jockey. It took him until he was locked away on an armed robbery charge to realize it. And then, Green suddenly forgot. Persuaded by Hughes, Green takes up television and stand-up comedy. Acting as his agent and manager, Hughes convinces Green that they can achieve celebrity nirvana. But, as in other relationships where one is focused on what the other can do for him, that's where it unravels.

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