Arts

Film review: Sorry To Bother You a wildly inventive and frequently uproarious satire

Lakeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer in Sorry To Bother You
Damon Smith

CHICAGO-born rapper Boots Riley makes his feature film directorial debut with an audacious, wildly inventive and frequently uproarious satire about workplace culture, black exploitation and rampant capitalism.

It's fair to say that Sorry To Bother You won't be everyone's tipple and there are madcap moments in Riley's script when the wheels threaten to come off this runaway train of thoughts. However, patience and gargantuan suspensions of disbelief reap rewards over almost two hours, which simultaneously bamboozle, delight and astound.

The writer-director has a penchant for visual gags in background detail like a rogue photocopier, which churns out reams of paper, creating a snowstorm of tumbling A4 around despairing employees.

Some visual flourishes are impossible to miss. A stop-motion animated instruction video credited to Michel Dongry is a nod to inventive French director Michel Gondry and a flaccid pun on the male appendage, which features so prominently in the film's loopy final act.

Dialogue crackles, from a workplace protest that inspires one young woman to gush, "That scene was crazy, like Norma Rae!", to the Machiavellian CEO who perceives anyone who can analyse a problem and adapt as "a cunning raccoon".

The unlikely hero is Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), known to friends as Cash. He lives in the garage of his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews) with activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson).

Four months behind on the rent, Cash must find alternative accommodation unless he can raise the balance within two weeks. He hopes a job as a telemarketer at RegalView alongside friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) will answer his prayers.

"We're not mapping the human genome here," deadpans Cash's manager (Robert Longstreet), who instructs him to follow the script and maybe – just maybe – he will be promoted to a Power Caller desk on the top floor.

Cash's tentative first efforts to engage customers are dispiriting failures until an experienced co-worker (Danny Glover) imparts sage words.

"You want to make some money here, read the script with your white voice," he whispers.

Sure enough, when Cash (now voiced by David Cross) erases all traces of Oakland from his patter, he secures his first sale... then another. In record time, he is courting the attention of Mr X (Omari Hardwick), who manages the Power Caller team, and Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), CEO of futuristic employer WorryFree.

Sorry To Bother You plays with madness as Stanfield's everyman becomes complicit in modern-day slavery on a grotesque scale.

Hammer has a blast in a small supporting role while Thompson is poorly served as the film's female lead but she relishes her character's standout scene of performance art, which incorporates dialogue from the 1985 martial arts film The Last Dragon.

Writer-director Riley holds firm to his ambitious and outlandish vision, and occasionally draws blood with his barbs.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (15, 112 mins) Comedy/Fantasy/Drama/Romance. Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Armie Hammer, Danny Glover, Robert Longstreet and the voice of David Cross. Director: Boots Riley.

RATING: 7.5/10

Released: December 7 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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