If movies existed in a vacuum, then “Sorry to Bother You” — written and directed by Oakland’s Boots Riley — would be a mixed bag.
It changes gears so abruptly, it’s almost off-putting. It’s hilarious for awhile, and then it’s just weird.
Still, “Sorry to Bother You,” which opens Friday, is notable as a rebel film for those who are sick and tired and angry about the world today.
Up-and-coming star Lakeith Stanfield, with his lanky frame and soft, wounded eyes, stars as Cassius Green; say it out loud and the reason is clear.
Cassius lives in less-than-ideal quarters (a great early joke) and can’t make ends meet. He goes to jobs with fake resumes and references, and, despite being caught, gets a job at Regalview as a telemarketer.
It’s a terrible job, compounded by the fact that no one wants to buy anything. However, in the next cubicle, he meets veteran telemarketer Langston (Danny Glover), who encourages Cassius to use his “white voice.”
The “white voice” (hilariously dubbed by David Cross) works, and Cassius is catapulted into a world of highly-paid salespeople in glamorous offices who are instructed to use “white voice” all the time.
(Patton Oswalt and Lily James provide other “white voices,” while Rosario Dawson turns up in a vocal cameo as an introductory voice in the elevator upstairs.)
Cassius’ artist girlfriend Detroit (the amazing Tessa Thompson) joins in as the grunt workers try to unionize, while Cassius is invited to a swanky party to meet the company CEO (Armie Hammer). At the party, he accidentally discovers what’s really going on.
“Sorry to Bother You” (with its screenplay published in 2014 in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), veers hard into a non-reality world. In the background are ads for a company that promises “worry free living,” which comes close to slavery.
The movie is sidesplitting for about half of its running time — the reliable Terry Crews helps in a few scenes — and then it becomes disjointed, pinging around like a pinball in a flashing machine.
It’s in the same vein as Alex Cox’s punk-rock Los Angeles odyssey “Repo Man” and this year’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” which both feature aliens. “Sorry to Bother You” goes a little further. Its reveal is creepy, and a little confusing. Does it mean anything, or is it just an attempt to squeeze virtually everything possible into one movie?
A lack of focus dilutes its anger about racism, capitalism, stupidity and more. Haywire music by art band tUnE-yArDs and songs by Riley’s hip-hop group The Coup add to the disarray. Even Stanfield’s face registers a blend of dismay and disgust.
Despite the messiness and crude ambition, “Sorry to Bother You,” which comes from a true place, is hard to dismiss.
Perhaps it’s part of a movement: Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” (and its excellent spinoff TV series), Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” and the upcoming “BlacKkKlansman” by Spike Lee and “Blindspotting” by Carlos López Estrada are tackling current concerns with clever combinations of humor and horror.
In other words, “Sorry to Bother You” is certainly here to bother, and is not sorry at all.
Sorry to Bother You
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Danny Glover, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews
Written and directed by: Boots Riley
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes