In the comedic sci-fi social commentary Sorry to Bother You Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) lives a life of rather loud desperation: he drives a borrowed car to work at a dead-end telemarketing job that doesn’t pay the bills let alone the rent to his uncle Sergio (Terry Crews) for the privilege of living in his garage and he hates it all. Green also suffers from having a conscience; disturbed by the daily grind that engulfs everyone around him,  he helplessly watches as his friends self-medicate with a mix of modern bread and circuses just to get through the day, the week, the month.

But one day while toiling away in his thankless job, old-timer Langston (Danny Glover) gives his young coworker some sage advice: to be successful on the phones, use your “white voice.” Edited for the trailer, this tip doesn’t do the whole conversation justice. Conversely, this messy movie doesn’t do the terse trailer justice. Although first-time writer/director Boots Riley has interesting and creative ideas, he probably needed someone telling him “no” on occasion to help him stay on-point since he has so much to say. Too much, actually. The scattered script broaches topics as complex and numerous as racism and white privilege obviously, but also the glorification of violence; keeping up with the Joneses; reality TV; the power and pitfalls of social media, online fame and capitalism; and the need for workers’ rights and unions to name but a few. Riley should have picked one, or even three things to say, and then say them better and concisely. With the trailer and even accompanying featurettes starring David Cross and Patton Oswalt (two of the overdubbed “white voices” in question) centered on the white voice as the plot, it feels like a bait-and-switch when it’s all but abandoned about a third of the way through Riley’s overcrowded film, even when the plot provided plenty of chances for it to be used. As such, out of left-field developments are introduced while well-established ideas are rushed or overlooked completely. The runtime could have also been clipped a bit, with some scenes feeling just slightly overlong, the film has annoying affection for a setup/question/explanation structure for key points, and it squeezes in a needless subplot involving a romantic involvement between Green’s girlfriend Detroit (a great Tessa Thompson) and his coworker Squeeze (Steven Yeun). Sorry to say, Sorry to Bother You should have bothered with some script doctoring before shooting.

Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson in “Sorry to Bother You” (2018)

Sorry to Bother You
Distributor: Annapurna Pictures
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Runtime: 1 hrs. 45 min.
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use
Director: Boots Riley
Writer: Boots Riley
Stars: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, David Cross (voice), Patton Oswalt (voice), Forest Whitaker