Hip-hop musician turned filmmaker Boots Riley makes a confident writing/directing debut with this riotous blend of comedy, satire, and sci-fi, in which a telemarketer discovers the key to success. Tackling race, capitalism, and wage slavery with a ribald insouciance, the results start hilarious and segue into outlandish before becoming increasingly deranged as the film nears its apocalyptic climax. (A WTF post-credits sequence doesn’t help.)
Like Get Out, however, Sorry to Bother You shows that a movie with a message can still be fabulously entertaining, if the right people are involved and the political point-making is laced with enough gleefully irreverent humour.
Forced to hawk encyclopaedias over the blower to find a way out of the garage/bedroom he rents from his disapproving uncle (Terry Crews), Oakland deadbeat Cassius ‘Cash’ Green (Lakeith Stanfield) finds his true calling through a simple expedience: using his “white voice” (in reality David Cross’ voice) to hide his true ethnicity from the mugs on the other end of the line. In no time at all he’s a “power caller”, rising rapidly through the ranks and catching the eye of Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the coke-snorting CEO of shadowy über-corp WorryFree.
The richer and more connected Cash gets, the more he alienates his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a human sign who spends her downtime devising provocative performance art. He also drifts from the rest of his former boiler-room compadres (among them Danny Glover and The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun). After being obliged to rap at one of his employer’s ritzy parties though – prompting what is both the film’s funniest and most unprintable moment – our hero makes a shocking discovery: one that turns his world on its head and gives a whole new meaning to looking a Lift horse in the mouth…
Riley hurls so many gags in our general direction (a photocopier going postal, a running joke about Cassius’ late dad, an entire stop-motion animated sequence aimed at Michel Gondry) he can hardly be castigated for the ones that fail to land. It’s surely better to have too many ideas than too few, particularly when so many of them are bang on the money.
In Stanfield, meanwhile, Sorry to Bother You has the perfect bemused lead, his stoner incomprehension giving way to slack-jawed consternation once the film makes its abrupt left turn into dystopian fantasy. “You sidestep more than the Temptations!” says Thompson (also terrific) at one stage. Riley’s crowdpleaser is no less fleet on its feet, signalling the arrival of an exciting new talent.
Check out what else is hitting cinemas this year with our breakdown of the most anticipated upcoming movies of 2018 and beyond.
- Release date: Out now (US)/December 7, 2018 (UK)
- Certificate: R (US)/15 (UK)
- Running time: 112 mins