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Sorry to Bother You

Answer the call of this challenging surreal satire

Black telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers the key to success: making sales calls using his “white” voice. << © Annapurna Pictures >>

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield: Atlanta) is eking out a living along the poverty line. He bounces from job to job and can’t afford rent, so he lives in his uncle’s garage. Girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson: Annihilation) is his motivation to do ­better.

            In his new job as a telemarketer, he seems headed for another failure. People hang up on him before he can get three sentences into his pitch. His success improves when he takes a co-worker’s advice: “Use your white voice.”

            Affecting his best white-guy voice, Cassius starts selling. With his newfound success comes the money and respect he’s dreamed of. Now a power-caller, Cassius gains the attention of the telemarketing company’s biggest client, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer: Call Me By Your Name).

            Detroit is not so happy with his new persona. Cassius doesn’t seem to care that the products he’s selling and his company are morally questionable, and he slips into his white voice in his conversations.

            Is his success a new form of capitalist oppression?

            Surrealist, satirical and funny, Sorry to Bother You challenges your brainpower. In his directorial debut, Boots Riley takes on capitalism, wage slavery, racism, the media, code switching and the Minions.

            He’s also made a movie that’s visually stunning. Practical effects create some memorable scenes, like Cassius and his call center desk crashing into people’s homes, interrupting their daily lives. The surrealist color palette and visual style make this hyper reality odd but fascinating.

            Because Riley is taking aim at so many societal issues, not all his criticisms are well developed. But when he goes deep, as he does on wage slavery and code switching, he mines a load of hilarious material.

            At the center of Riley’s social maelstrom is Stanfield, who does a marvelous job showing how seductive money and status can be, especially to those who are not easily granted either. It’s easy to see why Cassius may be willing to compromise. He’s also good at showing Cassius’ unease as he grapples with doing the right thing.

            As Detroit, Thompson gives a nuanced performance. Though she is the moral center for both Cassius and the film, she doesn’t get off the hook. Detroit is guilty of some of the same code-switching as Cassius, proving that compromise is part of the human condition.

            Another standout in the film is Hammer, who is unleashed as the unhinged embodiment of all that’s wrong with corporate white America. He watches Cassius with the bemused detachment of a ruler before trying to relate to him by throwing out phrases he’s probably heard in rap songs. His performance is a hilarious takedown of the boss as savior.

            With plot twists from left field, farcical visuals and some violence and nudity that may raise eyebrows, Sorry to Bother You requires some audience work. Stay with it for an innovative and entertaining experience. You’ll have plenty to talk about when this one’s over.

Great Satiric Comedy • R • 105 mins.

~~~ New this Week ~~~

Equalizer 2

            After coming out of retirement to take on the Russian mob and save a woman from forced prostitution, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) has a taste for helping people. Now the former CIA assassin offers himself out to people who need wrongs righted.

            When his former boss and friend is murdered, Robert goes back to the government to avenge her.

            Washington is following Liam Neeson’s career blueprint, becoming an action star after 60. The first Equalizer was fun and surprisingly feminist. If Washington’s second outing is as goofy and entertaining as the first, this will be worth the ticket.

Prospects: Flickering • R • 129 mins.

 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

            When Sophie (Amanda Seyfriend) discovers she’s pregnant, she sets out to learn more about her mother’s (Meryl Streep) long-ago unplanned pregnancy.

            With the help of her mother’s best friends and her three possible dads, Sophie peers into the past, learning about her mother’s brave and free-wheeling life.

            Filled with ABBA songs sung by people of questionable voice, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is targeted to fans of disco tunes and aging actors hamming it up in glorified karaoke.

Prospects: Dim • PG-13 • 114 mins.

 

Three Identical Strangers

            In 1980, three New Yorkers discover they have the same face. It turns out that the men are triplets separated at birth. As they bond, their story becomes a media sensation. They appear on talk shows, grant interviews and try to live as newly discovered brothers. But the truth behind their separation might tear them apart.

            Told by the men who lived it and their adopted families, this documentary about a tabloid sensation with real-world consequences is a fascinating study of what makes families and of wild and loose adoption policies.

Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 96 mins.