In his directorial debut, Death of a Telemarketer, Khaled Ridgeway explores the world of an overzealous telemarketer from Vertical Pictures. Ace telemarketer Kasey (Lamorne Morris) is in a close sales contest with a newbie employee, Barry (Woody McClain) and must score a big sale by midnight, or he’ll lose the largest commission to date. Out of desperation, Kasey waits until everyone leaves the office and finds the Do Not Call list. He thinks he’s found the perfect mark but instead finds himself held hostage and at the mercy of Asa (Jackie Earle Haley), the man he tried to swindle. Now Kasey must pass Asa’s twisted test on ethics if he wants to live to sell another day.
Ridgeway’s script introduces us to Kasey amid a successful sales call. Kasey’s job is to sell tv, phone and cable packages. From the onset, it’s clear that Kasey is a smooth talker, imploring everything from spurious dialect, falsifications, and fake compassion to meet his goals. While this appeases the boss, it makes him somewhat of a pariah among his co-workers. I commend Ridgeway for using subtle hints to set up Kasey’s reasoning to use the Do Not Call list.
The set-up is excellent, and most of all, it gives the always enjoyable Lamorne Morris a chance to showcase his rapid-fire delivery. Jackie Earle Haley brings his usual creepiness to the role of Asa, a man who, due to a tragedy from the past, hates telemarketers. Haley delivers his dialogue in a manner that screams ‘avoid at all costs’, but Kasey’s greed gets the better of him, and he finds himself at the mercy of not only Asa but his equally unstable son Jim (Haley Joel Osment).
I initially expected the film to go the thriller route from the film’s trailer, but instead, Ridgeway’s debut is more of a black comedy. While Haley never reaches the heights of his work in Little Children or Watchmen, he does have excellent chemistry with Morris, and this angle works to a significant effect when Asa picks up on Kasey’s BS. Primarily, the film is about a battle of wits between Lamorne Morris and Jackie Earle Haley’s characters. However, I must mention two supporting actors.
Woody McClain, who rose to fame portraying R&B icon Bobby Brown in two miniseries and currently stars on Power Book 2:Ghost, has a small but substantive role as Barry. McClain’s character lacks the swagger of his more well-known parts. However, the angle is a testament to McClain’s talent as he entirely sells the character. While I did enjoy seeing Lamorne Morris in a lead role, I would’ve loved to have seen McClain go head-to-head with Haley. Former child actor Haley Joel Osment also does well in his brief role, and the actor once known for seeing dead people has turned into quite the character actor.
Khaled Ridgeway is a talented filmmaker, and he makes excellent use of the single location that occupies most of the film. Ridgeway keeps the runtime short for his debut and never allows the film to overstay its welcome. I must also commend Ridgeway as he avoids turning the film into a message movie about differences. While I doubt I will ever revisit the movie, I will recommend it for fans of the two lead actors.
Final Grade: B
Death of a Telemarketer is available on VOD tomorrow 12/3 .