It’s a younger, hipper, more surreal Dilbert, a satire on corporate life and selling out that goes to some – maybe too many – very strange places, and doesn’t quite hold itself together as a result.
Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) is a down on his luck modern guy living with his beautiful artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson, as usual one of the best things here) in what turns out to be his Uncle’s garage.
After a tip by a friend, he gets what he assumes will be a dead end job as a telemarketer, and it’s there you get the first clue about what kind of film director Boots Riley intends to show you. As Cassius connects with his would-be customers he’s literally transported into the living rooms or kitchens they answer from, his desk and headset magically teleporting right next to where they’re sitting at their kitchen table or making love on their couch.
It gets weirder when an older colleague, Langston (Danny Glover), counsels Cassius that he’ll get further making sales if he uses a ‘white’ voice, which he does, a literal different and very whitebread voice coming out of his mouth at opportune times (courtesy of David Cross). One he does so, Cassius finds himself on a fast track to a mythical upstairs department where unimagined and even more surreal success will be his for the taking.
But as he sells out and tries to sleep at night, Cassius finds himself in the orbits of some very alternative ideas and lifestyles. His friendly co-worker Squeeze (Steven Yuen) is organising an uprising to demand better conditions for them and their co-workers, one Cassius knows is right but will derail his continued rise in the company.
He also comes to the attention of Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), an Elon Musk-like industrialist who owns the company and many more besides, and who sees something entrepreneurial in Cassius’ wholehearted buying in of the wealth and trappings of his thrilling new world.
But Lift has a dark vision to break the strike, and when Cash comes across it locked in a dank underground bathroom while attending a debauched party at Lift’s mansion, he’s horrified to realise how far into his new life he’s descended. Detroit is no longer talking to him, and the suffering his employer is causing in society is bought into nightmarish new focus. I won’t say much more, but human/animal hybrid experimentation is involved.
That might sound far out, but the entire film has been kind of been leading there. It’s a fairytale, the world depicted in the film has some very weird rules and principles (not all of which are entirely clear). But while there are some very inventive ideas and visuals, it seems to lurch unceremoniously from one plot turn and set piece to another with more interest in what’s weird than what’s cohesive.
There’s an effective satire about modern commerce in there somewhere, but it’s very hard to hack out of everything going on and it’s rendered a little bit toothless as a result.
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