Don Cheadle lets his hair down -- or at least his 'fro up -- in Talk to Me, an enjoyable screen biopic that unfortunately never reaches its full potential.
Cheadle, so soft-spoken in his Oscar-nominated turn in Hotel Rwanda, gives up the funk with his boisterous performance as Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr., an ex-con who becomes Washington, D.C.'s hottest disc jockey during the second half of the 1960s. His break into show business is aided by Dewey Hughes (excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radio program director who understands that, to stay relevant with the changing times, his station must add a new voice to address the hot-button issues of the day. Enter Petey, whose inflammatory words (on his first day on the air, he refers to Berry Gordy as a "pimp") incense the station's owner (Martin Sheen) until the listener response proves overwhelmingly positive.
The first part of the picture, which examines the testy relationship between Petey and Dewey as well as the loving one between Petey and his girlfriend Vernell (Taraji P. Henson), makes for wonderful entertainment, culminating in a powerful sequence in which Petey attempts (via radio) to calm down a city that's plunged into turmoil following the assassination of Martin Luther King. After this point, the film loses its freshness, as Petey's downfall (fueled by booze, insecurity and illness) can't escape being filtered through the usual movie clichés. Overall, though, Talk to Me takes its cue from its leading character: When it's at the top of its game, it can't be touched.