Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Don Cheadle………. Petey Greene
Chiwetel Ejiofor………. Dewey Hughes
Mike Epps………. Milo Hughes
Peter MacNeill………. Warden Cecil Smithers
Taraji P. Henson………. Vernell Watson
Cedric the Entertainer………. “Nighthawk” Bob Terry
Martin Sheen………. E.G. Sonderling
Making a biopic about famous and infamous persons has become pretty standard fare nowadays. It seems the best way to have a film done about yourself is to achieve a certain modicum of fame and eventually dissolve yourself into a washed up has-been. That’s seemingly the story of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), a former Washington, D.C Disc Jockey who was on the cusp of superstardom and threw it all away.
The film covers Greene’s life from his incarceration for armed robbery through the height of his career, culminating in his infamous appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. It’s an interesting story centered on Greene and Dewey Hughes (Chiweel Ejiofor), Greene’s program manager turned personal manager whose friendship would take interesting turns over the years. And while Greene’s story is rather unique, as his style would pave the way for guys like Howard Stern and Don Imus, the film itself is relatively bland.
It’s not the atmosphere that’s wrong, that’s for sure. Kasi Lemmons has meticulously gone back and recreated the 1970s and the WOL station, getting the little details right. It’s absorbing on a number of levels, as Lemmons doesn’t let the scenery take over the film. This isn’t about showing off how good one can recreate an era, which is refreshing.
And the combination of Cheadle and Ejiofor makes for a delightful time as well. Cheadle and Ejiofor play Greene and Hughes as near opposites. Greene is a vibrant, loud and colorful character with the sort of colorful suits that remembered from the era. Ejiofor is a nice juxtaposition against him, with the proper English and non-descript suits that set him apart from folks in the era. It’s interesting to see them working with one another, as both are ideal for the parts and have a solid chemistry with one another. They work on screen effectively including some memorable scenes; there’s something charming about the articulate Hughes out-hustling Greene at pool and seeing Greene’s facial reactions to it all. Both are seasoned, veteran actors and know exactly how to play off one another. It makes the film fascinating on a number of levels because of the investment both men put into their characters. For Cheadle it’s interesting because he’s never had a character that’s been this flamboyant and colorful. He gets to chomp scenery and go over the top, at one point dancing in the WOL reception area in a rather amusing way. For Ejiofor it’s a character with a terrific character arc, allowing him to grow with the role the same way Hughes did. It’s the sort of performance that wins Oscars.
And it’s a shame, because the film’s script mainly focuses on the Hughes character arc than it does on Greene. Greene is essentially the same person at the end that he is when he leaves prison, yet his effect of Hughes changes him wholesale. However this isn’t a film about Dewey Hughes, though it would probably be just as fascinating, it’s a film about Petey Greene. Yet the focus is away from him for large portions of time, as well as its main character arc focuses on someone else. It would be one thing if they showed how Greene affected those around him with his personality, as they make note of the thousands that came out to his funeral, but the film’s main focus is on his effect on Hughes as opposed to being on Greene himself. It’s disappointing for a film with so much potential.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):