Review by Sean Boelman
Its title quite obviously a pun on the famous play by Arthur Miller, the new comedy Death of a Telemarketer is unlikely to have as much of a lasting impact on the literary world as its namesake. However, thanks to a fully-committed cast, it manages to be a passable watch even if it isn’t all that funny.
The film follows a telemarketer who, desperate to pay off a debt, crosses some boundaries and finds himself at the mercy of one of the people who he tried to scam. It’s a concept that is certainly intriguing, but a solid premise alone is not enough to make an entire movie work, and that is where Khaled Ridgeway’s film struggles.
After the first twenty minutes of the movie set up the conflict and the audience gets thrown into the action, it becomes clear midway through the second act that Ridgeway is working on little more than a strong idea. He has this story that seems like untapped comedic gold, but simply doesn’t know what to do with it, resulting in a film that feels like a bunch of filler.
It’s hard not to immediately think of another, much better telemarketing movie: Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. Much like Ridgeway, Riley was working with a creative and ingenious premise, but what made that film stand out was that he transformed it into something more with a political message. Ridgeway’s movie doesn’t seem to say much of anything, other than the fact that we don’t know what’s going on in the life of the person on the other end of the phone.
The characters in the film are all heavily archetypal. There’s the arrogant overachiever who finds himself threatened by a naturally talented newcomer (who is an underdeveloped secondary antagonist himself). And the villain is an exaggeratedly angry fella whose meanness can be traced back to a wrong that was committed against him by someone not too dissimilar to the protagonist.
Much of this movie’s success hinges on the talent of the cast. Lamorne Morris is a ton of fun to watch in pretty much everything he is in, and he eats it up here. He’s great in this quick-witted, fast-talking salesman role. And while Jackie Earle Haley isn’t doing the best of what he can do here, it’s still an enjoyable performance.
There’s not a ton of flashiness in the film’s style due to the fact that it is predominantly set in a single location. But what Ridgeway fails to do is use this confined setting to his advantage. Although it’s clear that he definitely chose to go more of the dark comedy route, this could have been an effective farcical thriller had he instead focused more on building suspense and claustrophobia.
Death of a Telemarketer doesn’t earn the right to give itself a name based on one of the all-time greatest works of literature. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie — in fact, it’s a decently fun hour and a half, if only because of the talented cast.
Death of a Telemarketer is now on VOD.